A total of 30 cases have been reported on the mid north coast over the past four weeks.
A total of 30 cases have been reported on the mid north coast over the past four weeks. The Northern Star Archives

Whooping cough cases prompt public health warning

THERE have been 30 cases of whooping cough reported on the Mid North Coast over the past four weeks, 19 of which have been in the Bellingen Local Government Area.

The Mid North Coast Local Health District is urging all pregnant women and new parents to be aware of the symptoms and ensure they and their children are vaccinated on time.

Symptoms can start like a cold followed by a worsening cough that occurs in bouts and may be followed by vomiting, or "whooping" breaths.

The cough can last for many weeks and can be worse at night. Some newborns may not cough at all but may stop breathing and have difficulties feeding. Small babies can get very sick and may treatment in hospital.

Director of the North Coast Public Health Unit Paul Corben said getting vaccinated in the third trimester of pregnancy, and from six weeks of age is really important in preventing disease in newborns. 

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.

"While the levels of whooping cough across the Mid North Coast over the past month are similar to the averages of the previous five years, notifications of the disease are trending upwards," Mr Corben said.

"The latest figures show 93.2 per cent of five year olds and 92.8 per cent of 12 month olds in the region are fully vaccinated, up from 88.3 per cent and 89.3 per cent respectively in September 2010. However, 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.

"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."

The NSW Government is spending a record $22.75 million on state-wide immunisation programs this year. Since July, maternal whooping cough vaccine has been provided free through the National Immunisation Program.

For more information, visit: www.health.nsw.gov.au/infectious/whoopingcough/