Te mare tekekō Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough is a serious infection that causes a long coughing illness. It spreads easily between people. Whooping cough can be very serious for pēpi, tamariki and older adults.

Symptoms of whooping cough

Whooping cough causes breathing difficulties and severe coughing fits. The cough can go on for weeks or months which is why it is sometimes called the ‘100 day cough’.

The symptoms of whooping cough usually appear around 1 week after infection.

The first signs of whooping cough are usually in the first 5 to 10 days. This is when you are most infectious. The symptoms are similar to a cold, with:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • sneezing
  • a mild fever
  • ongoing spasms of coughing.

After about 1 week, symptoms include:

  • uncontrollable coughing fits that last for a few minutes
  • coughing that leads to vomiting
  • a thick mucus that can make you vomit or choke.

Sometimes people will make a 'whoop' sound when gasping for breath between coughs. This is a common sign of whooping cough but is not always heard.

Who to contact for medical advice

If you have symptoms that you are worried about:

  • contact your usual doctor or healthcare provider
  • call Healthline for free advice 0800 611 116
  • call 111 for an ambulance in an emergency.

Complications for tamariki

Whooping cough can be very serious for pēpi and tamariki, especially those under 1 year old. Many pēpi catch whooping cough from their older siblings or parents — often before they are old enough to be immunised.

If your pēpi catches whooping cough, they:

  • may not be able to feed properly
  • may not be able to breathe properly
  • may become so ill they need to go to hospital
  • could end up with serious complications such as pneumonia or brain damage.

Around 50% of pēpi who catch whooping cough before the age of 12 months need hospitalisation and 1 or 2 in 100 of those hospitalised pēpi die from the infection.

When to get immediate medical advice

How whooping cough spreads

Whooping cough spreads easily between people by coughing and sneezing.

A person with whooping cough is likely to be infectious from the week before they start coughing when they have cold-like symptoms, to 3 weeks after the cough begins. This is when they can give whooping cough to other people.

Diagnosing whooping cough

If you think you or someone in your whānau has whooping cough but do not need immediate help, contact your healthcare provider.

They can arrange a swab test to see if you have the bacteria that causes whooping cough.

Staying home

If you have whooping cough or are waiting for test results, you should stay home and isolate so that you do not give it to other people.

If you do have whooping cough you should isolate based on one of the following timeframes.

  • If you are given azithromycin antibiotics, isolate for 2 full days (48 hours) from when you took your first dose.
  • If you are given another type of antibiotics, isolate for 5 full days from when you took your first dose. If you are unsure about what type of antibiotics you have been prescribed, ask your healthcare provider. 
  • If you are not taking antibiotics, isolate for 3 weeks after your symptoms first started.

Isolating means staying away from school, early childhood centres, work and other places where you could have close contact with other people.

It is important to stay away from pēpi, young tamariki and pregnant people as they are at high risk of severe complications.

Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider for more advice about isolating.

Treating whooping cough

If you have whooping cough:

  • you may be given antibiotics to take at home if you are diagnosed early — take the full amount prescribed to you to kill all the bacteria and lessen the spread to others
  • your healthcare provider will tell you how to care for yourself or your tamariki at home while you recover.

If whooping cough is diagnosed in the later stages, you might not be prescribed antibiotics. You will no longer be infectious and they will not improve your symptoms.

The recovery stage may last for months. Although the cough eventually disappears after several weeks, coughing fits may recur if you suffer any later respiratory infection.

Young pēpi (less than 1 year old) with whooping cough may need hospital treatment. If your tamariki is admitted to hospital, they are usually put in an isolation room. This is to stop the infection spreading to other patients.

Self care at home

If you or a whānau member has whooping cough, try to manage symptoms with these tips.

  • Warm drinks may be soothing and help break the coughing spasm.
  • Drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Keep away from things that trigger coughing, like cigarette smoke.
  • Continue to breastfeed on demand to keep your pēpi hydrated — you may need to feed your pēpi more often.
  • If your pēpi is on formula, keep giving them formula feeds.

Other ways to stay healthy

You can also protect yourself and your community in other ways. 

  • Keep your pēpi away from anyone with a cough.
  • If you have a cough yourself, stay away from pēpi. 
  • If you have a cough taht will not go away, see your healthcare provider.
  • Wash your hands.

Immunisation against whooping cough

Whooping cough is not under control in Aotearoa New Zealand, and when outbreaks occur, it affects thousands of people.

Immunisation is the best way to protect you and your whānau from whooping cough.

Young pēpi can get the sickest from whooping cough. The best way to protect them is to get immunised during pregnancy.

Find out about the vaccines, who can be immunised and when to get immunised.

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