NSW Health is urging pregnant women and new parents to be aware of the symptoms of whooping cough and to ensure they and their children are vaccinated on time.
Despite almost 95 per cent of infants in NSW now vaccinated against the disease, outbreaks still occur every three to four years as immunity wanes, and recent high numbers indicate an outbreak may be on the way.
Vicky Sheppeard, NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Diseases, said that in October 2018, almost 800 people in NSW were notified with whooping cough (pertussis) – the highest number since October 2016.
“Whooping cough is challenging to control at the community level, as it is a highly infectious disease and immunity against whooping cough wanes over time, regardless of whether that immunity is from having the disease or as a result of vaccination,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“This means that the number of people susceptible to whooping cough in the community builds up over time and this can cause periodic spikes or larger outbreaks of the disease.
“The aim of whooping cough control is to protect infants, who are at highest risk of severe disease or death if they contract whooping cough. Whooping cough vaccination is effective in preventing severe infection.”
A GP can test for whooping cough and prescribe antibiotics.
People suspected of whooping cough should stay home until they have completed a five-day course of antibiotics.
Since NSW Health introduced free whooping cough vaccination for pregnant women in April 2015 to protect infants in the first weeks of life, there have been no infant deaths from whooping cough in NSW, compared to four deaths in the previous six years.
All pregnant women should receive a whooping cough vaccination, preferably at 28 weeks gestation in each pregnancy. The vaccine is funded under the National Immunisation Program and available through GPs, Aboriginal medical services and some antenatal clinics.
On-time vaccination of infants is particularly important, with the first dose due at six weeks, followed by doses at four months and six months of age. Boosters are due at 18 months, four years and in the first year of high school.
The most recent annual report revealed that 94.8 per cent of NSW infants had received their full whooping cough course in 2017.
“People in close contact with newborn infants such as grandparents, partners and close family members should ensure that they have had a whooping cough vaccine in the previous 10 years,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“Those that need to get vaccinated should do so at least two weeks before any infant contact.”