Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly infectious disease that is easily spread by coughing and sneezing. It’s a serious infection that causes a long coughing illness, may require hospitalisation and can be life-threatening, especially for young children.
The best protection against whooping cough is to be immunised. It's free for eligible people from GPs, some pharmacies, and Pacific immunisation providers.
Whooping cough can be very serious for babies and children – especially those under one year old. If babies catch whooping cough, they:
To protect your baby, get your free immunisation during pregnancy and take your baby for their free immunisations when they’re six weeks, three months, and five months old.
When it’s infectious, people with whooping cough are contagious from six days after exposure to the bacteria, when symptoms are like a normal cold, to three weeks after the ‘whooping’ cough begins – unless they are treated with antibiotics.
Many babies often catch whooping cough from their older siblings or parents before they’re old enough to be vaccinated.
The symptoms of whooping cough usually appear around a week after infection. This delay is known as the incubation period.
The first signs of whooping cough are like a cold, with a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, mild fever, and persistent coughing spasms, often followed by a 'whoop'. This is when you’re most infectious.
After about a week, you or your child:
When to see your doctor
See your doctor if you think you or a family member may have whooping cough, particularly if they:
When to seek immediate medical advice
You should seek immediate medical advice if:
Whooping cough is normally treated with antibiotics at home. The antibiotics will stop you from being infectious after two to five days of taking them.
Try to keep away from other people during this time and keep your child home from school or preschool.
However, without antibiotics, you may still be infectious until three weeks after your intense bouts of coughing start.
Young babies (less than one year old) with whooping cough may need hospital treatment to avoid developing complications.
If your child is admitted to the hospital to be treated for whooping cough, they are normally put into an isolation room. This is to stop the infection from spreading to other patients.
See your doctor
If you think you or a family member may have whooping cough, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor can test to see whether it is whooping cough.
If it is whooping cough, you may be given antibiotics. It is important that you complete the course of antibiotics to kill all the bacteria.
Your doctor will also tell you how to care for yourself or your child at home while you’re recovering.
If whooping cough is diagnosed in the later stages, it is unlikely that you will be prescribed antibiotics as you will no longer be infectious and they will not improve your symptoms.
If you or a family member has whooping cough, try these ideas.
Call Healthline on freephone 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.
Help stop the spread of whooping cough by:
If you’ve got a cough that won’t go away, see your doctor.
All babies in Aotearoa New Zealand can be immunised against whooping cough as part of their free childhood immunisations. See the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule.
It’s important to protect babies from whooping cough by getting immunised while you are pregnant, and immunising babies on time – at six weeks, three months and five months old.
The vaccines used are INFANRIX- hexa, INFANRIX-IPV and Boostrix.
Booster doses are given to children when they’re four and 11 years old.
For information on the vaccine, its effectiveness and any risks, visit: