I would prefer not to experience the pain of a broken rib, but if I do, I really hope the injury could be in some way worth it – perhaps sustained while mountain biking or generally doing something fun (if a fraction risky). Contracting pertussis (whooping cough) and coughing until ribs are broken would definitely not be included in my list of ‘worth it’ situations – but I have had at least two unfortunate patients in the last few years suffer this miserable fate.

There has been a resurgence of pertussis in our local area lately (and well over 11,000 cases in Australia this year so far). I find this very concerning, as apart from the 8-12 weeks of debilitating cough that adults experience, it can be a very serious infection for children and infants too young to have received adequate cover from their immunisations.

The infection starts just like a head cold for a few days, but then progresses on to a worsening cough that is sometimes terminated by gagging or vomiting. There is a small window of opportunity to have the infection diagnosed (with a nose swab by your GP), as antibiotic treatment can only help if started early, although it still helps to reduce transmission to others if started later.

The best way to avoid complications of the infection is to ensure your immunisations are up to date. This is crucial for anyone in close contact with infants and children. It is important to remember that although adults may have received pertussis immunisation in their childhood, this immunity reduces over time – and periodic re-vaccination may be warranted.

The pertussis immunisation is about 90% effective but it is not available for adults through nationally funded programs (apart for pregnant women), and so you may need to purchase the vaccination privately. A small price to help protect both infants and your ribs!

Dr Cath Hester


These articles are not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a qualified health professional or as specific medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from experience and research in the scientific literature. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon a partnership with a qualified health care professional.