MidCentral DHB’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr Rob Weir, says that for babies and young children there is currently a real risk of catching whooping cough, with New Zealand experiencing a national outbreak of the serious and contagious disease. Since the beginning of 2018, more than 1300 cases of whooping cough have been notified and 88 people - including 34 babies - have been admitted to hospitals throughout the country up to 20 April.
“However, adults do not always produce the characteristic whoop sound and can unknowingly pass on the disease. We urge all pregnant women or any adults in contact with babies and young children to ensure their whooping cough immunisation is current,” Dr Weir said.
“Immunisation during pregnancy is safe for mothers and babies, and the vaccine is free to pregnant women between 28-38 weeks, and also free for all children. Pregnant women who are vaccinated will pass on their immunity to their baby, protecting them until they can be immunised at six weeks. Vaccinations should be repeated when the child is three months and five months, and then again at four years and 11 years.”
Older people are also vulnerable to a number of diseases that can be prevented through immunisation, particularly influenza, shingles and tetanus. Influenza immunisation is free and recommended every year for those aged 65 and older. Shingles immunisation is also free for people aged 65 to 80. Combined tetanus and diphtheria immunisation is recommended at age 65.
Meanwhile, people of all ages are encouraged to get their influenza immunisation to protect themselves, their families and friends, before ‘flu’ season strikes in winter.
Vaccinations are now available at GP clinics and many pharmacies, and is free for pregnant women, people aged 65 and older, and people with long-term health conditions. Following vaccination it takes about two weeks for antibodies to build-up and offer protection. The vaccines contain four inactivated influenza strains, especially formulated for the New Zealand 2018 season and to match circulating viruses, including the ‘Aussie flu’ strain in the Northern Hemisphere winter recently.
Dr Weir says there are no live viruses in the vaccine, so it is impossible to get influenza from being vaccinated.
“Four out of five people infected with the influenza virus do not have any signs or symptoms, but can still pass on the virus to other people who can become very sick. Immunisation really is is the best protection for yourself and people around you.”
There is also an outbreak of measles around the country.
Measles is a serious and highly infectious disease that can cause long-term consequences or even death. The best protection is to have two MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations, available from GP clinics and free to eligible people. Measles symptoms include fever, runny nose, coughing, and sore red eyes. After 3-5 days a rash appears on the head and spreads down the body.
“Measles is a very infectious disease so anyone who is not immune to measles is at great risk if they come in to contact with the disease. It spreads from person to person through the air from breathing, coughing and sneezing, and contact with those secretions. The disease is contagious from just before symptoms begin until about five days after onset of the rash. The illness usually starts between 10 and 14 days after contact with the measles virus,” Dr Weir said.
“Anyone who thinks they may have mumps or measles should stay away from work, school or public places, and contact their GP by phone or Healthline on 0800 611 116 for more advice. It is very important you tell your GP that you think you might have measles before going in to the clinic.”
Anyone with questions or wanting more information about immunisations should: