You asked

What is pertussis, and why does my child need to be vaccinated against it?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is called whooping cough because of the distinctive, strange sounding cough that children who have it make. It’s caused by bacteria that infect and inflame the throat, lungs and other parts of the upper respiratory tract.

Whooping cough usually starts out with ordinary cold and flu symptoms – runny nose, sore throat, and mild fever. This can last for up to two weeks, before the coughing that is a tell tale symptom of pertussis starts.

Once the coughing does start, your child can cough non stop for anything from twenty to thirty seconds at a time, usually more frequently at night. Because they aren’t breathing in, many children’s lips and fingertips start to turn blue from lack of oxygen. Some children also vomit a mucous substance after coughing.

For children under one, pertussis is very dangerous, and even life threatening. It can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, convulsions or even, in extreme cases, death.

The disease is spread by contact with people who are infected, or through airborne saliva and mucus when they cough or sneeze, so it’s very important that unvaccinated children are kept away from infected people and children.

The pertussis vaccination forms a part of the series of ‘6 in 1’ vaccinations, and if your child receives those, he or she should be protected from the disease.  To avoid any risk of transmitting whooping cough to your baby, you and your partner, and any other caregiver, could also opt to have a whooping cough vaccination.

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