Whooping cough epidemic coming

BY EMMA BAILEY
Last updated 05:00 25/06/2009

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South Canterbury could soon be in the grip of two epidemics.

Medical officer of health Dr Daniel Williams said while there were still no cases of the swine flu pandemic, this year there had been seven times more cases of whooping cough, with an epidemic thought to be on its way. Immunisation against whooping cough was the best prevention.

"There have been 14 cases of pertussis [whooping cough] notified in South Canterbury so far in 2009, compared with two cases in the same period last year.

"All have been in the Timaru district. We received a total of 10 notifications for whooping cough in South Canterbury in 2008."

During the whooping cough epidemics in 2002 and 2005-06 there were up to 40 notifications a month across South Canterbury.

"Pertussis epidemics tend to occur in four to five-year cycles."

Babies are the most at risk of complications from whooping cough and can become very ill and may not be able to feed or breathe properly. Many need to be admitted to hospital.

"Immunisation on time is the best way to protect young babies, who are most at risk from serious complications caused by this highly infectious disease.

"About 84 per cent of babies are protected once they have had three doses of vaccine at six weeks and three and five months. The vaccine protection wanes over time, so it is also important that four and 11-year-olds get their booster doses, especially if there is a baby in the family."

However, he did not recommend an alternative high flying treatment believed to cure whooping cough, by taking the sick person up to 2700m. "There's no evidence that flying in a plane cures whooping cough, and some doctors have suggested that the lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes may in fact be dangerous for people with pertussis."

South Canterbury Aeroclub president John Scott said there had been no inquiries to take people with whooping cough on a high altitude flight.

There has been no change in South Canterbury's swine flu status yesterday and no new tests have been carried out. All tests had returned negative results. The region remains in the containment phase.

Incident controller Christine Nolan said West End Hall had been confirmed as the site of the first community assessment centre for the flu. "There is no opening date planned at this stage. The timing of opening will be determined by the number of people who are sick with flu-like illness in the community."

The centres are designed to ease pressure on health services if large numbers of sick people overwhelm them. "Once a decision is made to open a assessment centre it will open within a day."

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- The Timaru Herald

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