Whooping cough is a conagious disease, characterised by long coughing episodes. It can be very serious and in some cases fatal. This year has seen a significant increase in the number of reported cases nationally (602 cases notified to 23 June). In MDHB there have been 13 cases notified so far this year. During the last national epidemic, there were 187 cases in the MidCentral DHB area in 2012 and 110 cases during 2013.
Whooping Cough is always present in the community, but it tended to work on a four-year cycle of epidemics. The last epidemic peaked in 2012/13 suggesting another epidemic could come at any time now. The recent increase in cases across New Zealand means it is extra important to take precautions now to protect yourself against whooping cough.
Getting immunised on time is the best prevention. Whooping Cough vaccinations should be done at six weeks, three months, and five months, and again at four years and 11 years.
The vaccine is funded for all children as part of the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule, and is also free to pregnant women between 28-38 weeks.
MidCentral District Health Board Medical Officer of Health Dr Rob Weir says: “The disease usually starts with a runny nose and an irritating cough. It is at its most infectious at this time. After one to two weeks it typically progresses to a severe cough in infants and children. The coughing aids spread of disease at this time. Vomiting is common after a prolonged period of coughing. The disease can be particularly severe in babies and can result in difficulty feeding and breathing. Adults do not always produce the characteristic whoop sound and can unknowingly pass the disease on. The disease is sometimes known as the 100-day cough because of the length of time it takes to recover from it. If you think you might have whooping cough, it is important to visit your doctor as soon as possible since antibiotics work well when they are taken early in the illness.”
It is also known that rates of whooping cough can be reduced by immunising women during pregnancy.
Late in 2015 the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee released a special report. Committee chair Dr Felicity Dumble said then one of the easiest and safest ways to prevent or reduce the severity of the illness is to immunise mothers during pregnancy.
She said: "All pregnant women should receive a booster shot in their third trimester and should be given information by their GP or lead maternity carer about where and how to get one.”
Immunisation during pregnancy is safe for mothers and babies, and is now funded during the third trimester.
Dr Weir also reinforced the importance of vaccination saying: “Obtaining the vaccination on time is the best method of protection.”
If you want more information about the vaccination contact your doctor or Healthline on 0800 611 116.