How whooping cough affects children - Whooping cough in babies and children

Whooping cough (also called pertussis) is a highly contagious infection of the lungs and airways. It can make babies and young children very ill. Older children and adults can get it too.

A child with whooping cough will have repeated spells of coughing that can last for 2 months or longer.

Babies under 6 months old

Whooping cough is most serious for babies under 6 months old. They have a greater chance of:

  • dehydration - not enough fluids in their body
  • pneumonia - a severe lung infection
  • breathing difficulties
  • weight loss
  • fits (seizures)
  • kidney problems
  • brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen reaching the brain
  • death - but this is rare


Take your baby to your GP or hospital if you think they have whooping cough and they're under 1 year old.

Phone ahead to let them know that you think your baby has whooping cough. This is because they may need to make arrangements to prevent the infection from spreading to other patients

Page last reviewed: 20 November 2018
Next review due: 20 November 2021