West Coast pertussis cases on the rise

Pregnant women and babies under one need to be vaccinated against pertussis (whooping cough) says Medical Officer of Health Dr Cheryl Brunton.

“There is a national epidemic of pertussis and the number of cases on the West Coast is beginning to rise. Babies and children under the age of one are most at risk of serious illness and complications from pertussis,” she says.

“On time vaccination of babies and children against pertussis is their best protection against the disease. The vaccine is safe and free for pregnant women and can protect their babies until they are old enough to be vaccinated”.

Six cases of pertussis were notified to Community and Public Health during February: five cases in Buller and one in Grey District. There were two cases in Buller, one in Grey and one in Westland in the week ending Friday 2nd March.

See your doctor if you think you or a family member may have pertussis (whooping cough), particularly if they:

  • have prolonged coughing spasms;
  • turn blue while coughing;
  • cough with a whooping sound; and
  • are un-vaccinated.

You should seek immediate medical advice if:

  • you have a baby of 6 months or younger who appears to be very ill;
  • you (or your child) appear to be experiencing significant breathing difficulties such as extended periods of breathlessness; or
  • you (or your child) develop serious complications, such as seizures (fits) or pneumonia (an infection that causes inflammation of the tissues in your lungs).

Babies under the age of one who get pertussis are more likely to become seriously ill and need hospital treatment.

Signs and symptoms of pertussis (whooping cough)

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a highly infectious disease that is spread by coughing and sneezing. It’s caused by bacteria which damage the breathing tubes.
The symptoms usually appear around a week after infection.

Pertussis tends to develop in 3 stages. The initial (catarrhal) stage is when people are most infectious. It lasts for 1 or 2 weeks, and symptoms include:

  • a runny nose;
  • sneezing;
  • slight fever;
  • a mild irritating cough; and
  • feeling generally unwell.

The main symptom of  the second (paroxysmal) stage is coughing fits (paroxysms). This is a spasm of coughing followed by a big breath in or high-pitched ‘whoop’ in children. Babies and adults generally don’t have the high-pitched ‘whoop’. This stage usually lasts 2 to 3 weeks but can persist for up to 10 weeks, with the following symptoms:

  • intense bouts of coughing, which bring up thick phlegm;
  • a ‘whoop’ sound with each sharp intake of breath after coughing;
  • vomiting after coughing, especially in infants and young children;
  • tiredness and redness in the face from the effort of coughing; and
  • babies and young children often appear very ill, and may turn blue and vomit from coughing so much.

The cough gradually gets better during the third (recovery) stage, and the cough disappears after several weeks. However you may still get coughing fits whenever you get a respiratory infection like a cold for months.

Adapted from: West Coast DHB media release (Friday 9th March 2018).

Published on Monday, March 12th, 2018, under Uncategorised
Page last updated: 17/05/2018

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