Coffs Coast Business

Whooping cough outbreak on Mid-North Coast draws 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 of whooping cough 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 stop breathing 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 are 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.

“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,” Mr Corben said.

“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,” Mr Corben said.

The NSW Government is spending a record $22.75 million on state-wide immunisation programs this year. Since 1 July 2018 maternal whooping cough vaccine has been provided free through the National Immunisation Program.

First published in The Port Macquarie News – 8 December 2018.

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