Department of Health

Here’s what you need to know about pertussis or whooping cough

Kaycee Valmonte

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Here’s what you need to know about pertussis or whooping cough

Following reports of high cases of Pertussis or whooping cough in Metro Manila, particularly in Quezon City, as a preventive measure, teachers at the Rafael Palma Elementary School in Manila distributed face masks to students during class, on March 22, 2024.


The disease is characterized by the high-pitched sound made at the end of the cough

MANILA, Philippines – Several local government units have declared localized outbreaks of pertussis or whooping cough. In Filipino, it’s called “tuspirina” or “ubong-dalahit.”

The disease is characterized by the high-pitched sound made at the end of the cough.

Health Assistant Secretary Albert Domingo said that because it is a vaccine-preventable disease, the spread of rise of pertussis was often checked.

Pero dahil sa COVID-19 lockdown… ‘Yung ating pagbabakuna kailangan ngayon mag-catch up,” Domingo said in an interview with 92.3 FM on Friday, March 22.

(But because of the COVID-19 lockdown, our vaccinations now have to catch up.)

What is pertussis?

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is described by the Department of Health (DOH) as a “highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection.” This means it can easily spread among people by airborne droplets either through coughs or sneezes.

Health authorities clarified, however, that the country will not go on lockdown the way it did when the COVID-19 pandemic broke.

DOH Spokesman Eric Tayag told Super Radyo DzBB on Thursday, March 21, that the DOH was hopeful Filipinos will apply the same measures they had taken to protect themselves from catching COVID.

It’s a global trend as whooping cough cases are likewise rising in other parts of the world, such as in the United Kingdom and Canada. Health experts overseas also pointed to low vaccination rates – especially among children who are most vulnerable to pertussis.

Influenza-like symptoms

According to the DOH, symptoms for pertussis include:

  • mild fever
  • colds
  • coughs that last 7 to 10 days

The department said it takes around 10 days from direct contact for symptoms to start manifesting.

While it can be mistaken as an asthma attack, health authorities put an emphasis on how the cough sound. Described as “hacking coughs,” pertussis can be treated with antibiotics to help control the disease and “make the infection less serious” as long as it is taken early.


Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa encouraged the public, especially those with children 6 months old to 10 years old, to get vaccinated. On top of whooping cough, the health department has also noted a rise in measles cases in the Philippines.

The following vaccines should be among those available for free at local health centers:

  • DPT-HepB-HiB vaccine: to protect children against diptheria, pertussis and tetanus, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus, and influenza type B
  • MMR vaccines: for protection against measles, mumps, and rubella

Domingo said the DOH is currently trying to distribute vaccines among regions in the Philippines, depending on the area’s number of pertussis cases.

Data from the DOH show there have already been 453 cases reported in the first 10 weeks on 2024 alone. This is much higher that the numbers reported in previous years: 23 cases reported in 2023, 2 for 2022, 7 in 2021, 27 in 2020, and 52 cases in 2019.

Tayag said Metro Manila has the most number of cases reported, followed by Calabarzon and then Central Visayas.

  • Quezon City

QC Mayor Joy Belmonte declared a pertussis outbreak on Thursday, March 21. It has so far logged 23 cases in 2024, including the death of four infants aged 22 to 60 days old.

“The increasing number of pertussis cases is alarming and we are taking the necessary steps to prevent further transmission of the disease,” Belmonte said.

On top of a communication drive to help its citizens understand the disease, the city also planned to administer prophylaxis to suspected cases and will do targeted testing of individuals.

  • Iloilo City

Iloilo City’s health office has recommended to declare a localized outbreak in Molo and Jaro after five cases of whooping cough were reported from the districts. All of the patients are children. –

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said pertussis can be “cured” with antibiotics. This has since been corrected, as antibiotics can only help manage the disease when taken or prescribed early.)

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Kaycee Valmonte

Kaycee Valmonte is a multimedia reporter who covers politics in the House of Representatives and public health.