Whooping cough epidemic hits new high

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 14:25 14/02/2013

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Public health officials are urging Aucklanders to get immunised as the city's whooping cough epidemic reaches new levels.

So far this year 155 cases of the illness have been reported, compared with 74 for the same period last year. Last year 855 were infected with whooping cough, a massive increase on 2011 when just 179 people were infected.

Dr Catherine Jackson, medical officer of health for Auckland Regional Public Health Service, said whooping cough was a "highly infectious and serious illness".

"The number of people with whooping cough is very high, and we are not seeing the full picture as many people do not think they are sick enough to see their doctor for a nagging cough".

Jackson said she expected the epidemic to get worse before it got better.

"Based on the increase seen in the year to date compared to last year we are predicting higher numbers for 2013. When large outbreaks occur in New Zealand they usually last for two to three years."

There is always whooping cough circulating in New Zealand, but epidemics occur when the proportion of the population that is susceptible to disease increases either through low immunisation rates or waning of immunity after immunisation or infection, Jackson said.
"Whooping cough is very infectious and spreads very easily through the population. Someone with whooping cough if infectious for three to four weeks so can pass it on to many others." 

Jackson said whooping cough was particularly serious for babies under one and at present one in four in Auckland are not fully immunised by six months.

She said families expecting a new baby, or who have a baby under 12 months old, should check all family members and visitors have had the whooping cough vaccination in the past five years.

Vaccination for all children is free, and women in their seventh month of pregnancy can also get a free vaccination.

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