Pertussis is a bacterial infection spread by airborne respiratory droplets or through direct contact with respiratory secretions. In infants it causes a severe (life threatening) illness, especially if contracted in the first few months of life when they are incompletely vaccinated. The disease is most often transmitted to infants by close contacts – parents, grandparents or other carers. Pertussis is characterised by a barking cough or “whoop” which may last for several weeks. Despite good vaccination coverage in Australia, there are regular outbreaks of whooping cough every three to four years. Tens of thousands of people per year may be affected, but no-one knows the real number as many are not officially diagnosed.
Travellers are at risk of contracting the disease just as much as anyone and we strongly encourage travellers be up to date with vaccination for their own protection and for the protection of others (especially newborns they may come into contact with).
In addition, all pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy receive the vaccine for free to protect their infant at birth, and all carers of newborns (fathers, grandparents and other carers) are recommended to be up to date with whooping cough vaccination, which means having had the vaccine within the past 10 years and at least 2 weeks before first contact with the infant to allow time for the vaccine to work.
In adults a typical respiratory illness, usually with a harsh and prolonged cough. In newborns the illness can be very serious with complications of Pneumonia, hypoxia (low oxygen), death.
Vaccination is highly effective, particularly if boosted every 10 years. It can be given from 2 months of age.
Protection for newborns is provided by vaccinating pregnant mums as well as other caregivers and close family.
Routine boosters are recommended every 10 years (plus in the third trimester of each pregnancy). The vaccine is combined with tetanus and diphtheria (all in one needle).
Vaccination is safe although a sore arm is quite common for a couple of days. Very rarely there may be more significant swelling around the vaccination site. Occasionally self-limiting fever and muscle aches following vaccination.