Whooping cough is a very contagious disease, caused by the Bortedella pertussis bacteria. The bacteria produce a toxin that triggers coughing fits. The cough can last for months. This is why the disease is sometimes called the ‘100-day cough’. Children and pregnant people in the Netherlands can be vaccinated against whooping cough. The number of children who die from whooping cough is much lower as a result.

Protect your baby against whooping cough. Get the 22-week vaccination.

In the Netherlands, the maternal whooping cough vaccination is offered from week 22 of pregnancy. The 22-week vaccination protects the pregnant person and the baby against whooping cough.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

This is what whooping cough looks like: 

  • Whooping cough often starts with symptoms that seem like a normal nasal cold. 
  • The person starts coughing about 1 or 2 weeks later. The cough grows worse and worse, 
    especially at night. It often involves a distinctive barking cough, producing thick mucus.
  • The long cough may be following by a high-pitched wheeze during inhalation. 
  • Sometimes the patient may vomit from coughing too hard. 
  • Whooping cough can lead to pneumonia.
  • The coughing gradually subsides after a few weeks. 

Sometimes people with whooping cough have other symptoms. Older children and adults often just have a cough that persists for a long time, especially if they have been vaccinated. 

Whooping cough is especially dangerous for babies. If they become exhausted from coughing, they may stop drinking. Frequent coughing also causes a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can cause brain damage. Sometimes babies with whooping cough do not actually cough, but instead occasionally stop breathing. They may turn blue as a result. Over half of babies who have whooping cough are admitted to hospital. Very occasionally, a baby may even die from whooping cough.

How might I catch whooping cough?

People can infect each other by coughing and sneezing. When they cough or sneeze, tiny droplets containing the bacteria are expelled into the air. Other people could inhale the droplets and become infected. Whooping cough is most contagious at the beginning of the disease. At that point, many people do not know yet that they have whooping cough. People with whooping cough are contagious for about 3 weeks after the coughing fits start. The time between exposure and the first symptoms of illness is usually 7 to 10 days. 

Babies are often infected by their parents, brothers or sisters. If a pregnant person gets whooping cough around the time of delivery, she may infect the baby after birth. If the mother was not vaccinated during pregnancy (the 22-week vaccination), the baby is not yet protected against whooping cough. That means that the baby can easily become ill. 

It is possible for a person to get whooping cough more than once during the course of their lives. If you had whooping cough recently, or have been vaccinated against the disease, you have temporary protection. 

How can I prevent whooping cough?

Since 1957, vaccinations against whooping cough have been offered to all children in the Netherlands through the National Immunisation Programme. Vaccination offers protection for years, but cannot permanently prevent infection. That is why whooping cough vaccination is not only for babies, but also for young children. Thanks to vaccination, very few people die from whooping cough these days.

Newborns and young babies who have not yet been vaccinated can become seriously ill if they get whooping cough. They can even die as a result.

To prevent whooping cough in infants and limit the bacteria from spreading, follow these recommendations. 

For pregnant people

  • Protect yourself and your newborn baby against whooping cough by getting a maternal whooping cough vaccination during pregnancy
  • In the final weeks of your pregnancy, make sure you avoid contact with people who are coughing or sniffling.

For parents of newborns and infants

  • Protect your baby against whooping cough by getting the childhood immunisations from the National Vaccination Programme. Get these vaccinations in time. 
  • If your baby is not yet protected by vaccination, stay alert. If someone in the family has symptoms that could indicate whooping cough – such as a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath, or intense coughing fits – or if a family member who has had contact with a whooping cough patient then starts coughing, contact your GP. 

For people who have a cough and sniffles

  • Stay away from people in the final weeks of pregnancy and from babies. 


Good hygiene helps prevent whooping cough from spreading. Cough and sneeze into your elbow, and wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water.

Is there any treatment for whooping cough?

The GP can do a test to check for whooping cough. The GP can also tell you if antibiotics are needed. But by the time someone has figured out that they have whooping cough, the body has often already cleared away most of the bacteria on its own. If that is the case, then treatment with antibiotics will not make any difference. Even so, the cough may persist for some time. If the symptoms are causing discomfort, you could consider using cough syrup or nasal spray. Contact your GP:

  • if someone in your family has whooping cough and your baby is not protected;
  • if someone in your family has whooping cough and you are in the final weeks of your pregnancy. 

In such a situation, the GP will check if everyone in the family needs to take antibiotics to prevent the baby from catching whooping cough when it is born.

How common is whooping cough in the Netherlands?

Before vaccination against whooping cough was introduced in 1957, about 200 children died each year from the disease. Since 1996, there has been an increase in whooping cough cases, among children and adults. This is because of a change in the structure of the bacteria. As a result, people can catch it more easily now, even if they are vaccinated. There was a peak in whooping cough in 2012, when there were 83 reported cases for every 100,000 people. There is a peak in reported cases of whooping cough every 2 to 4 years. RIVM is closely monitoring the spread of whooping cough and posting updates on the current situation on the website.

Can a person with whooping cough go to childcare, school or work? 

A child who feels fine can go to childcare or school. Whooping cough is already contagious before a person knows they have been infected. Staying home does not help keep others from becoming ill.

If your child has whooping cough, tell the childcare provider or teacher. They can consult with the Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs) to notify other parents, If they know, parents can be alert to the symptoms of whooping cough, and contact the doctor if symptoms develop.

An adult with whooping cough who feels fine can go to work as usual. If you work with babies or in healthcare, consult with the company doctor, the GGD or your employer before returning to work.