Heading picture of pertussis toxin structure cartoon and text asking if the viewer has a terrible cough because it might be whooping cough

3D representation of pertussis toxin. 6 protein subunits. One of several toxins produced by B. pertussis. Most lethal in babies. Toxoid form is in all acellular pertussis vaccines. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Takuma-sa

Whooping Cough Information for Sufferers

Also known as pertussis

Causes sudden attacks of coughing with gagging and vomiting with no warning

Because the infection can range from whooping cough to no symptoms at all, it would be better called ‘whoopingcough-pertussis’

Hear audio recordings, read detailed information, send your comments, questions answered

full face doctor jenkinson whooping cough
Dr Doug Jenkinson

This site is just about whooping cough. It was established and has been active since July 2000.

I am Dr Doug Jenkinson. I have studied whooping cough as a family doctor for over 40 years in Nottinghamshire, England. See my recently (2020) published book about whooping cough.

You will find the answer to any question about whooping cough (pertussis) here.

It is much commoner than people realise because it gets missed and under-notified.

It is very difficult for doctors to diagnose it because it is a terrible but infrequent cough.

This site helps your doctor to diagnose you correctly when you feel you are disbelieved.

Summary  below.  Green links for more detail.


Go to detailed symptoms of Whooping Cough page

Summary of symptoms in children over 1 year, teens and adults

It starts with  a bit of a cold and sometimes mild feverishness, often a sore throat and a bit of a tickly cough.

After about 7 to 10 days the cough starts coming in spasms of continuous coughing that may last several minutes.

These paroxysms of coughing usually occur every few hours and there may be little or no coughing between the attacks.

The attacks of coughing may be followed by vomiting or drooling or both. Sometimes after the lungs have been emptied of air from a paroxysm, a deep indrawing of breath causes  a whooping noise from the throat as air is sucked back in.

The number of paroxysms can vary from 5 to 50 in 24 hours. 12 is quite usual.

This can go on for 2 to 6 weeks or more before becoming less severe and slowly fizzling out over several weeks.

Read the Blog “So You Think You Have Whooping Cough”

Summary of symptoms in babies

Babies can get very seriously ill from whooping cough especially if they are not immunised. One in a hundred are likely to die from it despite the best medical care. It is not rare. In recent years about one in a thousand was catching it unless the mother had a pregnancy booster shot.

Babies are too weak to keep coughing so violently and they are prone to not restart breathing after a paroxysm or sometimes just stop breathing instead of coughing. All babies with whooping cough need hospital treatment.

Symptoms of whooping cough in detail

Summary of treatment

If it is caught in the very early stages before symptoms are fully developed, in the first 10 days for instance, an antibiotic such as azithromycin can reduce its severity. If given in the incubation period it may prevent it altogether.

The same antibiotic is used in the first 3 weeks from onset in order to prevent spreading it to others, but after this time it is unnecessary and not beneficial.

Babies need to be in hospital for treatment and support and they may need high dependency care.

Cough medicines and inhalers do not help.

Treatment of whooping cough in detail

Summary of prevention

During the incubation period, which is 7 to 10 days, an antibiotic such as azithromycin can prevent it developing.

Immunization is the chief prevention method. The precise programme varies from country to country but always consists of a primary course of three injections at monthly intervals starting at about 2 months of age. Boosters are usually given after intervals of years.

A booster injection in mid pregnancy prevents most cases that would otherwise occur in the the first few months of life, which is the most dangerous age to get it.

Herd immunity is the strongest aspect of whooping cough prevention as it stops it spreading if there are good levels of individual immunity. Individual immunity comes from immunization and occasional exposure to the infection which can boost immunity in those previously immunised without us being aware of it.

Prevention of whooping cough in detail

You might like to see other pages


How do you catch it


Early symptoms

If you are not sure what you have you may wish to visit the UK’s NHS website on common ailments. Cough is a little way down the page.

The USA CDC website has information on coughs

There is information about whooping cough on Wikipedia


This page has been reviewed and updated by Dr Douglas Jenkinson  18 July 2021