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Whooping Cough trending upwards

Whooping Cough trending upwards

NSW Health is urging all pregnant women and new parents to be aware of the symptoms of whooping cough and to ensure they and their children are vaccinated on time.

Despite almost 95 per cent of infants in NSW now vaccinated against the disease, outbreaks still occur every three to four years as community immunity wanes, and recent high numbers indicate an outbreak may be on the way.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Diseases, said that in October 2018, almost 800 people in NSW were notified with whooping cough (pertussis), the highest number since October 2016.

Acting Director of North Coast Public Health, Greg Bell, said that a similar situation was emerging in Northern NSW where there have been 36 cases of whooping cough reported in the past 4 weeks.

While these levels of whooping cough across Northern NSW are similar to the averages of the previous 5 years, pertussis notifications are trending upwards.

The latest Australian Immunisation Register quarterly report shows that at September 2018 90.4% of five year olds and 88.9% of 12 month olds in Northern NSW Local Health District were fully vaccinated.

These figures represent an increase on vaccination rates in 2010 under the then North Coast Area Health Service, when 84.9 per cent of children aged 5 years and 87 per cent of 12-month olds were fully vaccinated.

Even in highly vaccinated populations it is not possible to eliminate whooping cough.

“Whooping cough is challenging to control at the community level, as it is a highly infectious disease and immunity against whooping cough wanes over time, regardless of whether that immunity is from having the disease or as a result of vaccination,” said Mr Bell.

“This means that the number of people susceptible to whooping cough in the community builds up over time and this can cause periodic spikes or larger outbreaks of the disease.

“The aim of whooping cough control is to protect infants, who are at highest risk of severe disease or death if they contract whooping cough. Whooping cough vaccination is effective in preventing severe infection.”

A GP can test for whooping cough and prescribe antibiotics.

People suspected of whooping cough should stay home until they have completed a five-day course of antibiotics.

Since NSW Health introduced free whooping cough vaccination for pregnant women in April 2015 to protect infants in the first weeks of life, there have been no infant deaths from whooping cough in NSW, compared to four deaths in the previous six years.

All pregnant women should receive a whooping cough vaccination, preferably at 28 weeks gestation in each pregnancy. The vaccine is funded under the National Immunisation Program and available through GPs, Aboriginal medical services and some antenatal clinics.

On-time vaccination of infants is important, with the first dose due at six weeks, followed by doses at four months and six months of age. Boosters are due at 18 months, four years and in the first year of high school. It is pleasing to see that in the most recent annual report 94.8 per cent of NSW infants had received their full whooping cough course in 2017.

The NSW Government is spending a record $22.75 million on state-wide immunisation programs this year.

Key strategies to Identify, Protect and Prevent whooping cough include:

1. Identify symptoms: Early diagnosis and treatment of whooping cough – see
your GP early and follow their treatment advice; after five days of treatment
with appropriate antibiotics people with whooping cough are no longer
infectious but without proper treatment they will remain infectious for 21 days

2. Protect baby, older children and adults: Timely vaccination of infants, preschool children, adolescents and adults according to the recommended
schedule is essential; and vaccination of pregnant women in the third trimester
of pregnancy (preferably at 28 weeks) protects very young babies who are
the most vulnerable to severe illness and death from whooping cough

3. Prevent spread: Minimise the spread of whooping cough or other infectious
conditions by practising good personal hygiene – staying away from child
care, school and work when sick; coughing and sneezing into your elbow; and washing hands regularly.

For more information, see:
http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/infectious/whoopingcough/pages/default.aspx
A whooping cough fact sheet is available at:
http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/whoopingcough/Pages/factsheet.aspx