Skip to main content

What is whooping cough?

Page last updated 02 July 2018

Whooping cough (also called pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. Epidemics in Australia occur every 3 to 4 years.

Whooping cough can be serious, even life-threatening to babies. About half of babies less than 1 year old who get whooping cough need care in the hospital. Sadly, 1 out of 100 babies hospitalised will die due to complications.

In adults, whooping cough it is less deadly, however it can cause serious health complications for some. Between 2011 and 2016, 50.3% of whooping cough reports were in adults.

Sources & Citations

  1. NHMRC. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 2013; 10th edition: Pertussis: 302 – 316. Available at:
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:
  3. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS). Available at: Australian Government Department of Health, Immunise Australia Program: Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Available at: (accessed 24 April 2018)  

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0136a - Date of preparation May 2018