Whooping cough spike could lead to epidemic Monday, 17 July 2017

Source: Stuff, 17 July 2017

The potential for a whooping cough epidemic has health professionals calling for vaccinations.

As cases of whooping cough spike across New Zealand, MidCentral District Health Board's  medical officer of health warns an epidemic could be on its way.

Dr Rob Weir said the last epidemic  was in 2012-13, and because the respiratory infection worked on a four-year cycle, another epidemic "could come at any time now".

The Ministry of Health confirmed whooping cough rates have been higher this year than the same period in 2015 and 2016, with an increase in recent weeks.

There have been 13 cases of whooping cough so far this year in the area covered by the MidCentral District Health Board, which includes Palmerston North and the Horowhenua, Manawatu and Tararua districts.

Nationally, there were 602 reported cases by June. 

Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said it was unclear at this stage whether the next epidemic was starting, but it was possible. 

"Whooping cough can be very serious in the first year of life.  Around half of babies who caught whooping cough in the last epidemic needed hospital treatment," she said.

Weir  said people needed to take precautions and protect themselves and their children.

The best prevention was to get immunised.

"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."

Weir said coughing  helped spread of the disease, and vomiting was common after a prolonged period of coughing.

"The disease can be particularly severe in babies and can result in difficulty feeding and breathing."

The vaccine was funded for children as part of the New Zealand immunisation schedule.

For children, vaccinations should be done at 6 weeks, 3 months, and 5 months, and again at 4 years and 11 years.

They were also free to women pregnant for between 28 and 38 weeks.

Rates of whooping cough could be reduced by immunising women during pregnancy.

Weir said adults did not always produce the characteristic "whoop" sound and they could pass the disease on without knowing it.

People who were concerned should visit their doctor as soon as possible for antibiotics to be taken early on in the illness, he said.

During the last national epidemic, there were 187 cases in the MidCentral DHB area in 2012 and 110 cases during 2013.

"Obtaining the vaccination on time is the best method of protection," he said.

More information is available from Healthline on 0800 611 116.