Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
Whooping cough is a highly infectious illness affecting the lungs and upper airways. It is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It can lead to severe and potentially life-threatening illness in infants, especially those under 6 months of age. In older children and adults, it presents with painful coughing spasms, which can be very distressing and last for 2-3 months.
The infection is spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing. It is contagious from 6 days after exposure has occurred until 3 weeks after the coughing spasms start.
The initial symptoms of whooping cough are runny nose, fever and occasional cough (known as the Catarrhal Phase). This lasts typically 1 to 2 weeks.
This is followed the Paroxysmal Phase, which is characterised by fits of severe and repeated coughing episodes. At the end of the coughing fit, a “whoop” may be heard. Vomiting and exhaustion can occur after the coughing fits. This stage can last from 1-6 weeks (but can go on for 10 weeks). Recovery is gradual with a reduction in the coughing fits
Complications are more likely to occur in infants under 6 months and include:
- Weight loss from repeated vomiting
- Lack of oxygen to the brain from Apnoeic episodes (breathing stops after fits of coughing) leading to convulsions, coma and brain damage
In adults and older children, the disease can cause:
- Weight loss from vomiting
- Loss of bladder control
- Rib fractures from repeated severe coughing fits.
Early treatment is important as antibiotics can lessen the severity of the illness, as well as reduce its infectiousness.
The disease is easily preventable with vaccination. Pertussis vaccination is included in the UK childhood immunisation programme and is also given to pregnant women to protect new-borns who are vulnerable to the infection, but are not able to receive the vaccination.
Available at our Flagship Clinics -Moorgate, Oxford Circus and Canary Wharf London
Other London Clinics (Updated June 2019)
Brighton and Hove
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Cambridge (Mill Road)
Glasgow East End
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Leicester (Evington Road)
Liverpool City Centre
Manchester (GP Didsbury)
Scunthorpe (Cambridge Avenue)
Stockton on Tees
Available at our Flagship Clinics -Moorgate, Oxford Circus and Canary Wharf
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Vaccination
The whooping cough vaccine is only available as a combination vaccine in the UK (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis and Polio). It is an inactivated vaccine, which means it does not contain any live organisms and thus, cannot cause the disease.
The vaccine is normally given as three doses at 2, 3 and 4 months of age as part of the UK childhood immunisation programme. A further dose is given with the pre-school boosters.
Immunity to the vaccine as well as to natural infection with whooping cough does wane with time. Therefore, re-infection or infection after vaccination can occur. However, it is usually milder and less prolonged than in those individuals who have never been vaccinated or never had the infection. As immunity wanes with natural infection also, vaccination can be given to individuals who have had whooping cough infection in the past.
The whooping cough vaccination can be given to individuals over 10 years of age in the following circumstances:
- To pregnant women to protect their new-born babies from the disease.
- For travellers to regions with an outbreak of pertussis and who had their last dose of the vaccine more than 10 years ago.
- To individuals who been exposed to whooping cough infection and had their last dose of whooping cough vaccine more than 5 years ago.
- For individuals who have had the vaccine more than 10 years ago and are regularly in close contact with young children or pregnant women and could transmit the infection to these vulnerable groups, such as health care workers.
- Boosting may be required for individuals working or living in the USA or Australia
The vaccine is given as a booster dose only for those who have received the initial three doses of the vaccination or had prior infection with whooping cough.
It is a single dose, which provides protection for around 10 years
Further doses of the vaccine can be given at 10 years if required.
The vaccine cannot be given in the following circumstances:
- To individuals under 10 years of age
- If there is a history of severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of pertussis, tetanus, diphtheria or polio containing vaccines
- If there is a history of severe allergic reaction to any of the additional components of the vaccine (see FAQ for list). This includes neomycin and polymyxin.
- History of encephalopathy (altered consciousness, convulsions, coma) within 7 days of receiving a previous pertussis containing vaccine.
- Acute illness with high fever (above 38.5 degrees Celsius).
- Uncontrolled neurological conditions, such as severe epilepsy.
There is no evidence of harm to the unborn child from vaccinating with inactivated vaccines, such as pertussis. Indeed, the vaccine is given to pregnant women between 16 to 32 weeks to protect the new-born infant from the illness.
Although, there is no specific data on the effects of pertussis containing vaccines to breast fed infants, there is no evidence of harm in using inactivated vaccines, such as this, during breast feeding.
Common Side Effects
Localised reactions at the injection site-includes redness, bruising, pain and swelling of the vaccinated arm.
Generalised side effects include fever, headache, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Interactions with Other Vaccinations
The vaccine can be given at the same time or any time before or after other vaccinations including:
- Travel vaccine such as yellow fever, hepatitis A, Typhoid, Rabies
- Hepatitis B vaccine
- MMR Vaccine
- Chickenpox vaccine
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Pertussis Vaccine Do you use?
CityDoc provides Boosterix-IPV, which is a combination vaccine containing Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis and Poliomyelitis. It has a lower content of Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis and thus, is only used as a booster vaccination.
The vaccine is manufactured by GSK.
Is the vaccine Safe?
Pertussis containing vaccines have been used as part of the UK childhood immunisations programmes since 1957. The vaccine used by CityDoc contains acellular pertussis (contains components of the bacteria only) in line with Department if Health guidance as these have lower incidence of side effects. The vaccine is inactivated and thus, cannot cause any of the illnesses that is protects against.
The vaccine does not contain mercury.
What does the vaccine contain?
In addition to pertussis, diphtheria, polio and tetanus, the vaccine contains:
- Aluminium Hydroxide and Aluminium Phosphate
- Medium 199 (as stabilizer containing amino acids, mineral salts, vitamins and other substances)
- Sodium chloride
- Water for injections
If I have already had diphtheria, tetanus and polio vaccine recently, but now require pertussis, is it safe to have this vaccine?
The pertussis vaccine is only available as a combination vaccine (dTap/IPV or DTap). The current guidance is that a pertussis containing vaccine can be given if required, but it should be given at least 1 month after receiving a dose of Diphtheria/Tetanus/Polio vaccine.
If I have a cold, can I still go ahead and have the vaccination?
The vaccine can be given in minor illnesses without any significant fever. If a high temperature is present, then it is best to postpone the vaccine until you have recovered.
Am I infectious after the vaccine?
The vaccine is inactivated and thus, cannot cause infection in the vaccinated individual and nor is the vaccinated individual infections to others.
How safe is the vaccine in pregnancy?
The vaccine has been given to pregnant women in the UK since 2012 following increase in the incidence of whooping cough infections. The very young are more vulnerable to severe infection and even death from contracting the illness.
A study if 18,000 women who were given the pertussis containing vaccine during pregnancy showed that they had the same incidence of healthy births as non-vaccinated women. Additionally, there was no evidence of stillbirth or any other serious adverse effects in the vaccinated individuals.
Why can the vaccine not be given to children under 10 years?
Whooping cough vaccination is part of the UK childhood schedule, with the last dose being given at preschool (3 years 4 months). The vaccine is designed to be given as a booster vaccination. Therefore, children under 10 years of age, should see their NHS GP to obtain the vaccination.