Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly infectious disease that is spread by coughing and sneezing. It is caused by bacteria which damage the breathing tubes and can be very serious for babies and children, especially those under 1 year old.

If babies catch whooping cough they may not be able to breathe properly, may become ill that they need to go to hospital and could end up with serious complications.

The disease is most infectious in the first couple of weeks, when symptoms present like a normal cold, and is infectious for 3-4 weeks after the cough starts.

Most babies catch whooping cough from parents or older siblings, before they are old enough to be immunised.


Immunisation is free and is given when the baby is 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months old.  Booster vaccinations are available for other groups. 

Pregnant women

Pregnant women are at much higher risk of getting whooping cough. If they do, the risks can be life-threatening for both mum and the unborn baby. Immunisation is funded at any time in the 2nd or 3rd trimester, but recommended from 16 weeks of every pregnancy. The immunisation stimulates the mother’s immune system to make antibodies and these are also passed to the infant via the placenta. This helps protect both the mother from getting sick with pertussis and the new baby.

Further information

Further information on whooping cough is available by visiting the following websites.

Ministry of Health | Whooping Cough

Health Navigator | Whooping Cough

Early Childhood Centres | Fact sheets

Parents share their experiences with whooping cough in these excellent short videos.

Ministry of Health | Whooping Cough | Video Stories

Last updated 18 June 2024.