Skip to main content

What is whooping cough?

Page last updated 12 May 2020

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 2013 and 2019, half of whooping cough reports were in adults.

Sources & Citations

2. Pillsbury A, et al. Commun Dis Intell 2014;38(3):E179–E194.

3. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. Pertussis (whooping cough). Available at: (accessed 25 March 2020).

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis frequently asked questions. Available at: (accessed 25 March).

5. Australian Government. Department of Health. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Number of notifications of Pertussis*, Australia, 2013 by age group and sex. Available at: (accessed 25 March 2020).

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0136(1)a - Date of preparation May 2020