Whooping cough epidemic possible, docs say

  • 26/01/2018

Thousands of babies could be exposed to whooping cough this summer if parents do not vaccinate themselves against the deadly disease, health officials have warned.

As one of the most contagious diseases affecting humans, some studies have estimated more than 70 percent of infants contract the disease from parents and close family or friends.

The disease is particularly dangerous for children less than a year old and the elderly, aged over 70, who are the two most hospitalised groups.

The warning comes as health officials have declared a nationwide outbreak of whooping cough with more than 1300 Kiwis contracting the disease since the beginning of 2017.

"Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease, which can have devastating consequences for infants, including pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death," the University of Auckland's Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said.

Yet, alarmingly, a new study had found few parents realised how much of a risk they can pose to their babies, she said.

This included 61 percent of those surveyed saying they were unaware it was possible for adults to pass the disease onto infants.

Forty-six percent also said they were unaware if they had been vaccinated against whooping cough, while 29 percent said they had been vaccinated but had not had a booster shot with just one-quarter saying they had been vaccinated and had a booster.

Starship children's hospital paediatrician Dr Anusha Ganeshalingham said this was putting babies at risk.

During the last outbreak in 2011-2013, 38 children with whooping cough were admitted to Starship and two of them died.

To help prevent the disease, parents need to keep up-to-date with their immunisations, Dr Ganeshalingham said.

Whooping cough symptoms in infants can include a high temperature, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing that progresses to coughing fits followed by a characteristic whoop.