Child coughing while at medical clinic


The infection usually starts with a runny nose and cough. Children with whooping cough don’t usually have a fever. Soon the cough worsens. The child may need to take a big breath and may make a “whoop” sound. The attack of coughing may last so long that the child becomes blue in the face and may vomit.

It takes a long time for children to get over whooping cough. They may be sick for 6 to 10 weeks.

Infants and younger children with whooping cough are at a high risk of complications, such as seizures, pneumonia, or dehydration. In infants, whooping cough can even be life-threatening.

It usually takes 7 to 10 days to get sick with whooping cough after coming into contact with someone who has it, but may take as long as 21 days.

Signs and symptoms

  • Early symptoms of pertussis mimic that of a common cold (runny nose, watery, red eyes, fever, sneezing, feeling unwell).
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Dry cough- that gets worse over about 2 weeks, and can last for months
  • Long coughing spells
  • Sudden coughing spells
  • Thick mucus
  • Whooping sound, as they try to get their breath (not always heard)
  • The face may change colour-red or bluish, while coughing
  • Small blood vessels in the skin of the face may break, causing small red spots on the skin
  • Coughing may be worse at night
  • Vomiting (throwing up) because of the amount of coughing

When you should see a doctor

You should see a doctor for:

  • Follow-up appointments
  • Trouble breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Ear aches
  • Slow or stopped breathing spells
  • Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, extreme thirst, little or no urine/pee)
  • Confusion
  • High fever
  • Coughing up green or yellow mucus
  • Signs of a hernia: bulging spots in the abdomen (stomach)
  • Seizures

How it's spread

Whooping cough is very contagious. It is spread by sneezing and coughing.


It is generally treated with antibiotics, which are used to control the symptoms and to prevent infected people from spreading the disease.

Who's at risk

People at high risk from whooping cough include infants less than 1 year of age and pregnant women in the last 3 months of pregnancy.

To protect those at high risk, all household and child care centre contacts of a case of whooping cough receive antibiotics - if there is a child less than 1 year of age, or a pregnant woman in the last 3 months of pregnancy, in the household or the child care centre.

Whooping cough is a reportable disease in British Columbia

The child care centre or school must report a case of whooping cough to the local Community Health Centre. If you are a provider who knows or suspects that a child or worker is suffering from a reportable disease, you should contact your Licensing Officer, Public Health Nurse or Environmental Health Officer.

Whooping cough resources

    • Pertussis resources

      Get the facts about whooping cough at the VCH Communicable Disease Control website.

    • HealthLink BC

      Visit HealthLink BC or call 8-1-1 for free for more information.

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Diseases to report