Pertussis is Endemic in Australia

Megan Reilly

Pertussis is endemic in Australia, with cyclic outbreaks typically occurring every 3 to 5 years.  In WA, weekly laboratory notifications of confirmed pertussis infections have been increasing throughout 2015, suggesting that another pertussis outbreak may be imminent.

In light of this, the WA Communicable Disease Control Directorate (CDCD) would like to remind immunisation providers of the significant impact of pertussis illness, particularly among newborns, with more than 80% of all deaths from pertussis occur in children less than 3 months of age.

To protect newborns, pregnant women should be vaccinated against pertussis during the third trimester of pregnancy.   Antibodies produced by the mother are transferred to the baby in utero and can protect the newborn during the first few months (i.e. the time when they are most vulnerable and too young to receive the vaccine themselves).  Recent studies from the United Kingdom indicate that vaccinating women in the third trimester of pregnancy can prevent more than 90% of pertussis infections among infants during the first few months of life.

WA Health currently offers free pertussis vaccine to all women in the third trimester of pregnancy.  For more details about pertussis vaccinations in pregnancy in WA please see:

WA Health reminds immunisation providers “that natural pertussis infection does not provide long-term protection and patients who have had pertussis in the past can be re-infected.  Similarly, pertussis vaccination of adults is estimated to prevent 84% of infections; this means a small but appreciable proportion of persons vaccinated against pertussis can still become infected.  Therefore providers need to be vigilant and consider pertussis in anyone presenting with clinically compatible symptoms (paroxysmal or persistent cough), regardless of their vaccination status.   In addition, whenever feasible, any person with a cough illness should be advised to restrict their contact with newborns until they have recovered, irrespective of their pertussis vaccination history”.