Whooping cough alarm

A SPIKE in the number of cases of whooping cough reported on the North Coast and elsewhere in the state has NSW Health concerned the potentially fatal disease could be finding a firmer foothold.

In response to the rising number of cases, Health Minister Jillian Skinner announced last week the State Government's free whooping cough vaccination program, which provides vaccinations for new parents, grandparents and carers of children under 12 months old, would be extended until at least December in a bid to curb the infection rate.

Paul Corben, North Coast director of public health, said this was a wise move with early statistics painting a worrying picture for the remainder of the year.

“So far this year on all of the North Coast we've had 315 cases of whooping cough – that's pretty close to what we had all of last year,” Mr Corben said.

“On a year-to-date basis, compared to the average of the previous five years, it's 30% above – that's alarming.”

Mr Corben said in the last four weeks alone on the North Coast, there had been 83 cases of whooping cough, a disease to which infants and young children are particularly vulnerable.

He said the key to combating the disease's spread was a combination of early treatment and vaccinations – he said if enough people in a community were vaccinated against the disease, it severely limited its ability to spread.

“There's very strong, very clear evidence in my view that vaccinations are protective at a community level and also on the individual level so by being vaccinated you're not only protecting yourself, but you're also helping to protect your community,” he said.

However, he said this system of shared immunity was compromised when pockets of the community chose not to immunise their children and themselves. Mr Corben said he believed it wasn't worth the risk.

“I've heard some of the anti-vaccination people say ‘it's just a cough, it'll go away,' – but the fact is we've had two babies aged only a few months old who have died of it (whooping cough) on the North Coast since March 2009,” he said.

“That's a great tragedy for those families, but also for their communities, especially when it is avoidable through vaccination.”

Mr Corben said the disease often began with symptoms similar to a cold, but a violent cough usually developed which was particularly dangerous to infants.

“In young children, the cough can lead into coughing fits, they become sort of uncontrollable coughing fits,” he said.

“These coughing fits can be really quite distressing and violent. Babies can actually turn blue from lack of oxygen – in little babies it's just an awful thing to watch.”

For more information about the whooping cough vaccination or the free program, visit health.nsw.gov.au or talk to your GP.

MVE Warning

Meanwhile, Clarence Valley residents are being urged to protect themselves against mosquitoes after the death of a Canadian tourist who contracted the mozzie-borne disease Murray River encephalitis (MVE) while he was on a trip to the Northern Territory.

According to Griffith University, the rare disease was becoming more common in flood-affected areas where pools of stagnant water was left to lie.

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