A whooping cough outbreak in Nelson and Marlborough may cause a nationwide epidemic, health officials warn.
Nelson Marlborough District Health Board says the outbreak in the top of the south, with similar outbreaks in West Coast and Hawke's Bay, may develop into a nationwide epidemic similar to 2004-2005.
Medical Officer of Health for Nelson Marlborough District Dr Jill Sherwood said so far this month it had 27 cases with a further 16 still under investigation. Last month Nelson had 40 cases of whooping cough.
She said this disease was especially serious for babies who have not yet been immunised.
Dr Sherwood advised parents to keep young babies away from anyone with a cough. Adults and older children with coughs might have unrecognised whooping cough and are often the source of infection for babies.
"See your GP quickly if you are concerned about your health or the health of your child as antibiotics prescribed early in the illness could decrease the seriousness of the symptoms," she said.
Whooping cough is a preventable disease. "If babies and young children are immunised, they can reduce their chance of this serious and sometimes life-threatening illness," Dr Sherwood said.
Babies are not protected until they have received their three initial vaccinations, due at six weeks, three months and five months. The vaccination is free and available from GPs or practice nurses.
Children should have booster doses at four and eleven years. Having these vaccinations on time gives babies and children the best protection from whooping cough.
Whooping cough symptoms start with a runny nose and dry cough. Coughing gets worse over the next few weeks developing into attacks of coughing. The "whoop" sound may occur as babies draw a breath after a long coughing attack. Babies might go blue or stop breathing during coughing attacks. Older children and adults may not "whoop"; they may just have a cough. Babies, children and some adults may vomit after coughing attacks.
Dr Sherwood said that if anyone has a cough that lasts for more than two weeks, or is severe, especially in a baby not yet fully immunised, or there are any symptoms suggesting whooping cough, they should see their doctor. Babies who do not receive their immunisations on time have a five times greater risk of being hospitalised with whooping cough, she said.
International data showed that seven out of 10 babies under six months who contract the disease are hospitalised and one in 200 of those who are hospitalised will die from the disease, she said.
More information on whooping cough is available through Healthline on freephone 0800 611 116. For all further inquiries about having a baby or child immunised, talk to your GP.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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