Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Travellers around the world should watch out for this menacing microbe. It causes a cough which lasts for several months, with intense bouts of coughing which leave you gasping for breath.

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Key Fact

Of the babies who catch whooping cough before they’re a year old, around half will need time in hospital.1


  • How do people catch these disease?

    By breathing in tiny droplets spread by the coughs and sneezes of people infected with the bacteria that cause whooping cough.2

  • Which countries are affected?

    Cases of whooping cough occur all over the world but around 95% are in developing countries.3

  • What are the symptoms?

    Fever, coughs, sneezes, runny nose and sore throat. Bouts of uncontrollable coughing lasting several minutes occur as the disease develops. Coughing may be severe enough to cause vomiting. Sometimes people find it difficult to breathe between coughing bouts and their gasping for breath causes the characteristic “whooping” noise.2

  • How serious is the disease?

    Children under 6 months are particularly at risk of complications such as pneumonia, fits and kidney damage. If breathing is interrupted there’s a risk of brain damage. The disease can be fatal, though deaths are rare (1%).2,4

  • Can I reduce the chances of catching the disease?

    You can take the following precautions to help reduce your risk of infection:

    • Visit your nearest convenient specialist travel health clinic for a risk assessment before your trip4
    • Pregnant women are advised to have the whooping cough vaccine. This protects babies during their first weeks of life2
    • Wash your hands thoroughly2
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis (Whooping Cough). About Pertussis. Signs and Symptoms. August 2017. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/signs-symptoms.html (Last accessed May 2018)
  2. Gesundheit.GV.AT. Keuchhusten bei Kindern. Available online: https://www.gesundheit.gv.at/krankheiten/kinderkrankheiten/infektion/keuchhusten Last accessed May 2018)
  3. World Health Organization. Immunization Monitoring Pertussis reported cases. February 2018. Available online: http://apps.who.int/immunization_monitoring/globalsummary/timeseries/tsincidencepertussis.html (Last accessed May 2018)
  4. Zentrum für Reisemedizin. Keuchhusten (Pertussis). Available online: http://www.reisemed.at/krankheiten/keuchhusten-pertussis (Last accessed May 2018)

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