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Whooping cough management and care

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection of the nose and throat. 

Whooping cough is high infectious.  It can be spread when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes.  It is also spread by contact with hands, tissues and other articles soiled by infected nose and throat discharges. 

Whooping cough kills about 250,000 children worldwide each year and often surviving children are left with brain damage.  Other serious complications include pneumonia, bleeding into the nose, eyes or brain, and development of hernias. 

For further information refer to the Communicable Disease Control Branch whooping cough fact sheet.

Signs and symptoms

Whooping cough often begins with cold-like symptoms ie runny nose, sore and watery eyes, low grade fever and general unwellness.  After 3 to 7 days a dry cough develops which may be present for many weeks or months.

Incubation and infectious period

Incubation period

This is the time between becoming infected and developing symptoms.

  • 7 to 10 days (most commonly) but can be between 4 to 21 days.

Infectious period

This is the time when an infected person can infect others.

  • Highly infectious when the ‘cold-like’ symptoms occur in early stages
  • Without treatment a person is infectious for the first 3 weeks of coughing
  • With treatment (antibiotics) the person is no longer infectious after 5 days of taking antibiotics

Exclusion periods

A child should be excluded from childcare, preschool, school or other care services until 5 days after commencing antibiotics.

If not treated the child should be excluded for 21 days from the start of any cough. 

The exclusion of children who have been in contact with another child with whooping cough in a childcare setting depends on the age of the children in the childcare setting, their immunisation status and whether there have been other recent cases of whooping cough infection in the childcare setting.

Refer to the SA Health website Exclusion from childcare, preschool, school and work for further information on exclusion periods.

Notifiable condition reporting

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a notifiable condition.  This means that medical practitioners and diagnostic laboratories are required to notify the Communicable Disease Control Branch of suspected or diagnosed cases. 

It is not the responsibility of the education or care service to notify SA Health of a child suspected of having whooping cough.  

For further information refer to SA Health Notifiable disease reporting.

Communication to school community

The school community should be informed when a child or staff has been diagnosed with whooping cough.

Information can be included in the education or care service newsletter or as an additional document.  This should include the whooping cough fact sheet and an explanation notice (example attached below).


Disability and Complex Needs Team

Phone: 8226 0515
Email: education.health [at] sa.gov.au