Whooping cough

Whooping cough is a bacterial and highly contagious infectious disease.


Whooping cough is a bacterial and highly contagious infectious disease. It can occur at any age, but mostly affects children younger than five. It starts with cold-like symptoms. This is followed by intense, hacking coughing bouts, usually at night, which bring up thick phlegm or cause vomiting. Vaccination is recommended according to the Swiss vaccination schedule.


  • Incubation period: 5-20 days

Typically progresses in three stages

  • Catarrhal stage (1 - 2 weeks)
  • Paroxysmal stage (2 - 6 weeks)
    • Episodes of intense, hacking coughing (usually at night)
    • Protruding tongue when coughing
    • Last cough is followed by a sharp intake of breath that produces a characteristic “whoop” sound
    • Coughing bouts recur frequently
    • Coughing brings up thick phlegm or causes vomiting
    • Lips, eyes and face may be swollen
    • Sometimes, bleeding into the conjunctiva
  • Convalescent stage (10 - 12 weeks)
    • Symptoms improve
    • Coughing attacks are less frequent and intense


Causes and treatment


  • Highly contagious
  • Temporary rather than lifelong immunity against a second infection after recovering from whooping cough

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Physical examination
  • Blood test
  • Nasal and throat swabs (search for pathogen)
Possible therapies
  • Antibiotics
  • Oxygen therapy and humidification of respiratory air
  • Bronchodilating medication, if necessary
  • Infected infants are treated in the children’s hospital (monitoring of breathing)

What can I do myself?

  • Vaccinations (as recommended by the Swiss vaccination schedule)
  • Avoid contact with whooping cough patients
  • Children with whooping cough
    • Quiet, dark room
    • Humidification, open windows
    • Keep calm during bouts of coughing
    • Walks in the fresh air
    • Frequent small meals
    • Drink plenty of fluids

When to see a doctor?

Further information

Federal Office of Public Health, FOPH (Bundesamt für Gesundheit, BAG)


whooping cough, pertussis

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Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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