Common questions about whooping cough

What is whooping cough (pertussis)?

Whooping cough (also called pertussis) is a disease caused by bacteria that infects the lungs and airways. Pertussis causes serious coughing fits that can lead to choking or vomiting. The coughing can be so intense that a “whooping” sound happens when an infected person tries to catch his or her breath. This is why pertussis is commonly known as whooping cough.

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What causes whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by bacteria that infects the lungs and airways. Whooping cough is spread easily through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Children can also be infected by rubbing their eyes or mouth after they touch toys or objects handled by a person infected with whooping cough. The pertussis-causing bacteria can live for two to five days on dry objects like clothes, glass or paper.

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What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Symptoms of whooping cough include a mild fever, runny nose, red watery eyes and a cough, followed by more serious coughing fits that can last for two to eight weeks. The coughing fits may cause difficulty breathing, choking and vomiting.

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What can happen to my child if he or she gets whooping cough?

Infants and children with whooping cough will have very bad coughing spells that can make it hard for a child to breathe or eat, for weeks or months at a time.

Whooping cough can also cause pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and even death.

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Is there a treatment or cure for whooping cough?

Whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics. Sadly, even with treatment, whooping cough can be deadly.

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What is the name of the immunization that includes protection against whooping cough?

The DTaP-IPV-Hib, DTaP-IPV and dTaP vaccines will prompt your child’s immune system to build antibodies – or “armour” – that will protect your child against whooping cough.

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At what age is it recommended that my child be immunized against whooping cough?

To be protected against whooping cough, your child needs multiple doses of DTaP-IPV-Hib, DTaP-IPV and DTaP vaccines, at the ages and stages recommended in the routine schedule.

Your child is recommended to receive DTaP-IPV-Hib vaccine at two months of age, followed by a dose at four months of age, at six months of age, and at 18 months of age. 

Your child will then need a dose of the DTaP-IPV vaccine between four and six years of age.

Finally, your child will need a dose of dTaP vaccine between 14 and 16 years of age.

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Are there side effects to the whooping cough vaccine?

Side effects of the whooping cough vaccine are usually very mild, and temporary. Your child may have a slight fever, be fussy, sleepier or have less appetite than usual, and his or her arm or thigh might be a bit red or sore where the needle went in (there may be slightly more redness or swelling with the fourth and/or fifth dose of this vaccine). These side effects are very common, usually happen about 12 to 24 hours after the immunization, and usually go away within a few days. Your child may also get a small painless lump where the needle was given (usually disappears in less than two months). For tips on managing symptoms following immunization, click here.

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Is this disease called any other names?

Whooping cough is also called pertussis. Whooping cough and pertussis mean the same thing.

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