Information For Patients

Increase in cases of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

There has been an increase in the number of cases of  Pertussis (Whooping Cough) in recent months. Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting against whooping cough. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly infectious bacterial disease involving the respiratory tract. It is caused by a bacterium that is found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person. Pertussis is a notifiable disease.

Initially, symptoms resemble those of a common cold, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough. Within two weeks, the cough becomes more severe and is characterized by episodes of numerous rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched whoop. In young infants the typical ‘whoop’ may never develop and coughing spasms may be followed by periods of apnoea (episodes of cessation of breathing). Young children (particularly infants) are most severely affected by pertussis. Babies with whooping cough may have to stay in the hospital. Complications for your baby can include pneumonia and brain damage. The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated.                                                                                                          (Source: www.hpsc.ie)

During pregnancy

The immunity developed by a mother after vaccination during pregnancy is passed on to her baby in the womb. This immunity helps protect the baby during the first few months of life.

Whooping Cough Vaccine

Women should get whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy. The mothers immunity to whooping cough wane during pregnancy and is unlikely to protect the baby. Vaccination is recommended between 16 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. This is considered the best time in pregnancy to provide protection for the baby during the first few months of life.


The whooping cough vaccine is free and available from your GP. The vaccine cannot give you whooping cough – it does not contain any live viruses.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is whooping cough (pertussis)?

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a highly contagious illness that can be life threatening. The disease is most serious in babies less than 6 months of age – many babies are hospitalised with complications such as pneumonia and brain damage.

Babies less than 6 months of age are too young to be fully vaccinated.


What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Whooping cough causes long bouts of coughing and choking making it hard to breathe. The ‘whoop’ sound is caused by gasping for air between coughing spells. A child with whooping cough may turn blue from lack of air, or vomit after a coughing spell.

Not all children get the ‘whoop’ and often older children and adults just have a cough.

The disease can last up to three months.

Infection with whooping cough does not give long lasting protection so re-infections can happen.

How does whooping cough spread?

Whooping cough is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing or close contact.

Someone with whooping cough can spread the disease for up to three weeks after the start of the cough.

Many babies who get whooping cough have been in contact with family members who have had a cough for longer than 2 weeks.


How can whooping cough be prevented?



When should I get the whooping cough vaccine?

The best time to get the whooping cough vaccine is between 16-36 weeks of your pregnancy. Giving the vaccine at this time will give your baby the best protection. The vaccine can be given after 36 weeks but it may be less effective.


How does the whooping cough vaccine protect you and your baby?

The vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce high levels of antibodies to the whooping cough bacteria. These antibodies will also pass to your baby in the womb and protect them during the first few months of life.

If you or your baby are in contact with whooping cough the antibodies will attack these bacteria and will protect you and your baby from whooping cough.

The antibodies you pass to your baby in the womb decline rapidly in the first six months of life so it is important your baby gets the routine childhood vaccines (which include whooping cough vaccine) on time at 2, 4 and 6 months.


How often should pregnant women get the vaccine?

The antibodies you develop after vaccination decline over time so you need to get the vaccine again in your next pregnancy.

You should get whooping cough vaccine during every pregnancy so that high levels of these antibodies are passed to each of your babies in the womb.


Is there anyone who cannot get the vaccine?

The vaccine should not be given to

  • those with a history of a severe allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction to a previous dose of whooping cough vaccine or any part of the vaccine.

It is not recommended:

  • if there is a history of a severe local reaction to a previous dose. You should not get a tetanus or diphtheria containing vaccines more often than every 10 years if you have a severe local reaction.


How long does it take the vaccine to work?

The vaccine starts to work within two weeks.


Can I get the vaccine later in pregnancy?

Yes. Getting the vaccine in later pregnancy will give you and your baby some protection.

Can I get the vaccine after my baby is born?

Yes. You can get the vaccine in the first week after your baby is born. This will protect you from catching whooping cough and passing it on to your baby. However vaccination after your baby is born means you cannot pass the antibodies to them for protection in their first few months.


What about breastfeeding?

The vaccine is safe to give if you are going to or are breastfeeding.


My baby was premature so what can I do?

Babies born before 32 weeks will not be protected as they will not get enough antibodies from you while in the womb.

The best way to protect them is

  • to make sure other children in the house are fully vaccinated.
  • to make sure all unvaccinated teenagers or adults in the house get a whooping cough vaccine. Ideally they should get the vaccine 2 weeks before contact with the baby.
  • to keep your baby away from anyone with a cough until they have had two of their routine vaccinations (at 4 months of age).


Can other adults reduce their risk of whooping cough?

Any adult who wishes to reduce their risk of infection to themselves or to young babies may get the vaccine.


I had whooping cough as a child so do I still need the whooping cough vaccine?

Yes the immunity from previous infection decreases over time so you should get the vaccine to protect you and your baby.


Can the vaccine give me whooping cough?

No. The vaccine cannot give you whooping cough because it does not contain any live viruses.

Source: www.hse,ie