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Whooping cough jab vital for health

JULIET MCGHIE
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013
Whooping cough
NEWBORN DEATH: Six-week-old Christchurch baby Alaya-Reign Pamata Ma’anaima died in December from whooping cough.
Whooping cough
BOOSTER'S BEST: Family members who come into contact with newborns are encouraged to get booster vaccinations.

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A whooping cough epidemic which hit New Zealand at the end of last year is still being felt.

A six-week-old Christchurch baby, Alaya-Reign Pamata Ma'anaima, died in December.

The baby, who was born prematurely, had been scheduled to go to Auckland Starship children's hospital but was too sick to travel.

There was one other death reported last year involving a three-year-old unimmunised child with underlying health conditions from another part of the country.

"It's a tragic reminder, I think, of the seriousness of whooping cough which is an incredibly infectious and entirely preventable disease," Auckland Regional Public Health Service medical officer Dr Simon Baker says.

"Our best advice is for babies and pregnant mothers to get immunisations on time."

"Newborns need to be immunised when they are six weeks old.

"While it's a busy time for families it's crucial they don't forget to get their baby immunised as this is when they are most vulnerable.

"These little babies can get really sick and die."

A free vaccine is now available to women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.

"Also we encourage a strategy of cocooning, where members of a family - dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and anyone surrounding a newborn - are encouraged to get a booster vaccination," Dr Baker says.

"The important thing to remember is the vaccine does not last a lifetime.

"In fact, it only lasts for 10 years.

"If adults haven't had a booster their immunity has dropped and they are exposing the disease to those most vulnerable."

About 6000 confirmed cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis or 100-day cough, were reported throughout the country last year, including 900 in Auckland.

Dr Baker says there are probably just as many unreported cases.

He says many adults could have whooping cough without realising it, as when you're older the symptoms are less severe. Auckland University's Immunisation Advisory Centre vaccinology senior lecturer Dr Helen Petousis-Harris says protection wanes.

"It wanes if you've had the disease, it wanes if you've had the old vaccine and it wanes if you've had the new vaccine, but it seems to wane a little faster with the new vaccine," she says.

While the infection was generally milder in adults, some adults' coughs could be so severe they could break ribs or get bloodshot eyes, Dr Petousis-Harris says.

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But it is far more dangerous, and potentially life-threatening, if passed on to vulnerable babies.

Some Rodney residents are suffering whooping cough now, and others have had it before.

Mahurangi West resident Cimino Cole had a severe case in 2002.

He had blackouts and dropped to his knees when he coughed. He says he had it for some time before he was diagnosed.

- Rodney Times

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