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

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.