Keeping epidemic at bay

HIGHER vaccination rates in the Clarence Valley have kept the effects of a whooping cough epidemic on the North Coast largely at bay, claim local health authorities.

The director of public health for the North Coast, Paul Corben, said there had been 49 cases in the Valley so far this year, up 29% from 38 in 2010.

This compares with 630 cases for the year on the North Coast, up 50% on the previous year. Ninety-nine have occurred in the past.

Mr Corben said the whooping cough epidemic around NSW showed signs of diminishing after a peak in 2009 but was making a resurgence this year.

"The group in the community most at risk are mostly primary school children," Mr Corben said.

"We're not sure why this is. It's a complex matter involving the state of the organism."

But he said the figures always reflected the level of immunisation in the community.

"Comparing Byron Bay - which has one of the lowest immunisation rates in NSW if not Australia - to Ballina, virtually next door, shows this," he said.

Mr Corben said the attack rates at the start of the epidemic in Byron Bay (about 60% immunisation rate) were double that of Ballina, where about 90% of the population had been vaccinated.

"Eventually the Byron community had a level of natural immunisation, but that was gained at the expense of a much-higher attack rate in the community," he said.

Mr Corben said immunity to whooping cough faded over time, so boosters were required every few years.

He said the most susceptible people in the community were new-borns, which has been reflected in a decision to lower the age to begin the vaccination program to six weeks.

Parents are urged to repeat the does at four months, six months and four years and then take advantage of the school-based vaccination program.

"On top of that, regular carers of babies under the age of 12 can get free booster vaccine against whooping cough," Mr Corben said.

He also urged parents to be vigilant and keep people who showed signs of a cough away from their infants.

"Whooping cough is a nasty disease that can be difficult to diagnose first up," he said.

"But it can be treated with anti-biotics that also reduce the amount of time people remain infectious with the disease."

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