Mother finds whooping cough diagnosis hard to pin down

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2012

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A series of GPs failed to diagnose potentially life-threatening whooping cough in two young children, raising concerns about awareness of the disease.

A New Plymouth mother said the doctors were convinced her 7-week-old baby and 6-year-old son did not have the disease, but when a GP finally took swabs from them both were found to have it.

The country is in the midst of an outbreak of whooping cough - or pertussis - with 5493 cases diagnosed nationwide this year.

The woman's baby was hospitalised for three days to be monitored because the risk of apnoea (lack of sleep, a side-effect of the disease) can be fatal in small children.

After her experience, the mother, who asked not to be named, said yesterday she wanted to see New Plymouth GPs raise their awareness and carry out more tests for whooping cough.

"If other families accepted the GPs' opinions at face value, there could be a very ill baby in the community," she said.

The first GP examined both her son and the baby and said he was "more than happy" it was not whooping cough. It was a virus and would run its course, the GP told her. When the symptoms continued, the mother went to an after-hours doctor who said he was "90 per cent sure" it wasn't whooping cough but took swabs to set her mind at rest.

She eventually took the children to Taranaki Base Hospital where the response from the medical staff was "awesome". She received an immediate prescription for antibiotics and the baby was admitted.

The mother was keen to warn others that the disease was prevalent in Taranaki and to take precautions, especially around vulnerable babies and the elderly.

Adults often suffered only a tickly cough for 90 to 100 days.

"I'm concerned a lot of adults are potentially spreading the disease. I'm guessing my son got it from school," she said.

Ministry of Health statistics show about 100 people in Taranaki had the disease in the past year.

Nationwide this year, two children have died, one an unimmunised 3-year-old with underlying health conditions, and the other a premature infant.

A Taranaki District Health Board spokeswoman said yesterday free immunisation would be offered to pregnant mothers from next year.

In announcing the free immunisation this week, Health Minister Tony Ryall said babies were the most vulnerable to whooping cough. "The severe coughing can cause babies to stop breathing and can lead to blindness, brain damage, and in severe cases, death."

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- Taranaki Daily News

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