Epidemic puts babies in hospital

A nationwide whooping cough epidemic is continuing to hit the Waikato hard, with the region recording the third highest infection rate in the country this month.

Babies are turning up to hospital with severe cases and it could get worse as families gather for Christmas. "This is a key time. [Whooping cough] is not a seasonal event," the Waikato District Health Board's immunisation co-ordinator, Kim Hunter, said. "This is an epidemic at the moment.

"It's a big outbreak and our rates are high."

At the beginning of the month, Waikato had the third highest number of cases in a two-week period (21), behind Canterbury (75) and Capital and Coast (29).

More than 5000 cases nationwide have been reported this year - 4000 more than last year.

Babies under one year are over-represented in the statistics, showing the epidemic is being spread by the unvaccinated adult population, Ms Hunter said.

" These are 4, 5 and 6-month-old babies who are significantly compromised.

"They've got collapsed lungs and have lots of complications."

With Christmas approaching, Ms Hunter urged adults to get vaccinated to prevent young relatives getting sick.

"We know that 70 per cent of cases are coming from a household contact.

"Christmas is a wonderful time and everything, but it does increase the risk for babies."

Ms Hunter said the Waikato was also performing poorly when it came to immunising children against whooping cough - with the third lowest rate in the country.

Babies are supposed to get vaccines at six weeks, three months and five months.

But in the Waikato only 67 per cent of 6-month-olds have had all three vaccinations.

Ms Hunter said delaying the vaccine increased a baby's chance of being hospitalised, with non-immunised babies being admitted at a rate four to six times higher than immunised babies.

"It's a frightening time for parents.

To have a baby that young in hospital is a serious event."

All childhood immunisations are free and the Waikato District Health Board offers a free whooping cough vaccine to women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant. This is available at doctors' clinics.


Whooping cough is also known as pertussis. It is a contagious bacterial infection spread by coughing and sneezing. It is particularly severe in babies under a year old. Outbreaks occur every three to five years in New Zealand. SYMPTOMS: A choking cough, often severe, which may last several minutes. Coughing attacks may end in vomiting. There may be a high-pitched "whoop" sound when the child tries to breathe in after coughing.