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Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Immunisation Profile Raised


Public Health England has updated its information for public health professionals relating to pertussis (whooping cough). This follows an increase in cases in many countries in the world. Pregnant women are typically offered a vaccination to protect against whooping cough.


Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. Another organism called B. parapertussis causes a similar illness. With these tqoc bacteria, a vaccine is available for B. pertussis but not for B. parapertussis.


With the infection, the illness begins with an initial catarrhal stage. This is followed by an irritating cough, which ordinarily becomes paroxysmal over the course of one to two weeks. The paroxysms are followed by the characteristic ‘whoop’ (or sometimes by vomiting). The illness goes on for around two to three months. With older children and adults, the illness can be present as persistent cough.


Pertussis is sometimes complicated by bronchopneumonia, together with a high frequency of vomiting and subsequent weight loss. There is a low risk if cerebral hypoxia, which can cause brain damage. Deaths occur most often with infants who are under six months of age. Associated minor complications include subconjunctival haemorrhages, epistaxis (nosebleeds), facial oedema, ulceration of the tongue or surrounding area, and suppurative otitis media.


The infection is passed on via respiratory droplet with the most infectious stage being the early catarrhal phase. The period over which people are infectious (the incubation period) is six and 20 days.


The Public Health England update takes the form of a chapter in the health guidelines ‘Green Book’ and it can be accessed here.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.