Tanya has lived with asthma all her life, but 20 years ago she and her newborn baby were hospitalised with an infectious resiratory disease that could have ended in tragedy.

The birth of her son, Jakob, in 2002 was a joyous moment for the Ray family from the Gold Coast. Tanya was well prepared for motherhood and mindful of her asthma so she could stay healthy and look after her son. 

But not long after bringing baby Jakob home, Tanya started to experience a cough that exacerbated her asthma. A few days later, baby Jakob also started to cough and they were advised to visit the hospital emergency department. Later diagnosed with whooping cough, the virus had spread quickly through the family with the father, Jarrod, also experiencing symptoms.

“I started developing a cough. I didn't think much of it. I just thought I'd maybe picked up a cold or something. But nothing we were doing, nothing the doctor was doing, was getting my asthma under control, so I was admitted hospital.”


Both Tanya and baby Jakob were put into separate isolation wards and unable to be in contact with one another. Jarrod, who was also symptomatic, was unable to visit his wife or son at this critical time. It was an experience they hope no other family goes through.

“We pulled through, but it's important that everyone is aware of the potential dangers of whooping cough and other infectious respiratory diseases.” 
Jarrod, Tanya's husband

Pertussis is a disease known as whooping cough due to the distinctive sound of its main symptom. Doctors and hospitals worry about cyclical pertussis outbreaks as they can place an extra burden on health systems with severely sick babies.1  But pertussis is also a stealthy disease in adolescents and adults because the infection often goes undiagnosed, and yet can land people in hospital.2

A potentially life-threatening infection for asthmatics

“Many people with whooping cough just think they have a long-lasting cough or stubborn cold,” says Dominika Kovacs, Global Franchise Head of Polio, Pertussis and Hib (PPH) Vaccines at Sanofi.  “The problem is that they are transmitting the pertussis bacteria to others, including people at risk. Too often, people are unknowingly passing whooping cough on to asthmatics, for example, who are much more likely to end up in the hospital.” 

The incidence of whooping cough is significantly underreported, and scientists estimated that it’s 50 to more than 100 times undercounted, depending on a person’s age. ,   “This adds up to much more disease caused by pertussis than we imagine,” notes Denis Macina, Lead Epidemiologist in pertussis at Sanofi.  

“Whooping cough is extremely contagious, moving easily within families and communities.  But because the infection is less recognisable in many adults, people go on living their lives and spreading the disease.” – Denis Macina Lead Epidemiologist in pertussis, Vaccines, Sanofi

And the detrimental impact on health is exponential for asthmatic adults who are up to 4 times more likely to become infected than adults with no underlying conditions.1  And if you catch pertussis and have asthma, you’re in fact 40% more likely to need hospitalisation than people who don’t have asthma.   

For those concerned about whooping cough and other infectious respiratory diseases, it’s important to talk to your doctor about disease prevention. 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whooping Cough is Deadly for Babies. https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/pregnant/mom/deadly-disease-for-baby.html [Accessed March 3, 2022].
  2. Chen CC, Balderston McGuiness C, Krishnarajah G, Blanchette CM, Wang Y, Sun K, Buck PO. Estimated incidence of pertussis in people aged <50 years in the United States. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2016 Oct 2;12(10):2536-2545. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2016.1186313. Epub 2016 May 31. PMID: 27246119; PMCID: PMC5085009 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5085009/ [Accessed March 3, 2022].
  3. Masseria, C., Krishnarajah, G. The estimated incidence of pertussis in people aged 50 years old in the United States, 2006–2010. BMC Infect Dis 15, 534 (2015). https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-015-1269-1 [Accessed March 3, 2022].
  4. Buck PO, Meyers JL, Gordon L-D, et al. Economic burden of diagnosed pertussis among individuals with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the USA: an analysis of administrative daims. Epidemiol Infect. 2017;2109-2121. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28462763 [Accessed March 3, 2022]

April 22, 2020