Nelson's whooping cough epidemic is on the rise again, and the Kemplen family have experienced first-hand how contagious the disease can be.
A sharp increase saw 53 cases reported in Nelson and Marlborough last month, well up on the 22 cases reported in April. The two regions had 674 cases reported last year, meaning the area had the highest notification rate per head of population nationwide.
In Nelson, all four members of the Kemplen family contracted the disease last month, with baby Evie being hospitalised.
Mum Annabel Kemplen said she thought two-year-old Theo was the first member of the family to contract whooping cough.
Despite having completed a full course of vaccinations, he had "normal cold-like symptoms" for three weeks before Mrs Kemplen also fell sick with what tests confirmed was whooping cough.
Soon, six-week-old Evie also became ill, and dad Nick followed shortly afterwards.
Mrs Kemplen said she was surprised to discover that while antibiotics prevented sufferers from being contagious, the disease itself was untreatable. She also found that vaccinations lowered but did not eliminate the chance of catching whooping cough.
When she caught the disease, Evie had received the first of three immunisations which should be given to babies at six weeks, three months and five months.
"It's so easy to miss, and quite often it is misdiagnosed," said Mrs Kemplen.
Symptoms of whooping cough include a cough that lasts longer than two weeks, and "spasms" of coughing that can end in vomiting or difficulty breathing. The characteristic "whooping" intake of breath as sufferers struggle to breathe is another sign.
"It's really scary, particularly with babies," said Mrs Kemplen. "Evie would go bright red, and it would seem like she wasn't breathing for ages."
Now 15 months old, Evie has spent more than a third of her life with whooping cough. She and Mrs Kemplen were kept in Nelson Hospital for two nights, and the two adults were asked to learn CPR as a precaution for the children.
The severe coughing caused by whooping cough can cause babies to stop breathing, leading to blindness, brain damage and even death. Other complications include pneumonia and ear infections.
Mrs Kemplen said she wanted other parents to be vigilant about protecting themselves and their children from whooping cough, and she would have accepted the free booster shot offered for pregnant mothers if she had known about it.
Nelson Marlborough medical officer of heath Dr Ed Kiddle said it was not known why the spike occurred but it might have been the onset of colder weather, when people were more likely to be in close contact, making it easier for the disease to spread.
He said it showed that there were still a lot of people who were vulnerable to the infection, and it was a timely reminder to people to cover coughs and stay away from babies in particular if they had cough or cold symptoms.
Whooping cough vaccinations for children and pregnant women are free, and help people reduce their chances of catching the serious and preventable disease.
Whooping cough reported cases Nelson/Tasman
- © Fairfax NZ News
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