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Whooping Cough

Did you know that adults can catch whooping cough too

Healthy adults

Half of whooping cough cases in Australia are in adults.

It’s easy to think of whooping cough (also called pertussis) as a disease that only affects children and babies. But whooping cough in adults is more common than you might think. 


In 2016, over 20,000 Australians caught whooping cough and over 8,499 of these people were adults.

Adults aged 20 years or older accounted for more than half of all the whooping cough cases reported in Australia between 2011 and 2016.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease, spreading to 90% of susceptible household contacts.
Whooping cough epidemics occur every 3 to 4 years.

Although serious and life-threatening to babies, whooping cough can also cause serious health complications in adults. One of the most common symptoms of whooping cough is the persistent or “100 day cough”.

When left untreated or undiagnosed symptoms of whooping cough can continue to worsen and manifest in the following:

•    fits of rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched ‘whoop’ sound
•    vomiting during or after coughing fits
•    exhaustion after coughing fits

Many Australians have been vaccinated as a child, infant and adolescent. However, vaccinations received in childhood do not provide adequate protection against the disease in adult years. This is because immunity after vaccination diminishes over time, therefore leaving people at a greater risk of catching the disease. 

If you are unsure if you are up to date with your vaccinations, speak to your healthcare professional.  

The Australian Immunisation Handbook recommends vaccination for “any adult who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with pertussis.”

Family having fun at the beach

Sources & Citations

  1. Australian Government Department of Health. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Available at:
  2. NHMRC. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 2013; 10th edition: Pertussis: 302 – 316. Available at: home~handbook10part4~handbook10-4-12
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:

SPANZ.ADAC.17.12.0287(1) - Date of preparation July 2018