The outbreak of whooping cough across Otago has an Auckland researcher concerned about the possibility of a wider epidemic.
More than 100 cases of suspected pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, have been reported to the Southern District Health Board in just over a week.
University of Auckland researcher Dr Kathryn Philipson says whooping cough epidemics happen in three to five years cycles, and it's been four years since the South Island dealt with its last one.
"Pertussis is always circulating, even at low levels in the community, and often people are unaware they have the disease," she says.
"During epidemics it generally takes a while to move around the country so people can be more affected in Otago right now, but in three or six months it could be in Hawke's Bay or Auckland."
Dr Philipson's study, The Cough Conundrum (COUGH), found one in 10 people who checked in to primary care with an acute persistent cough had whooping cough. The disease is difficult to diagnose as many of the symptoms mimic that of an everyday cough.
"In winter time there are simply more cough illnesses and people may not go to their doctor or think it is not unusual to have a cough if they believe they have had the flu for example.
"Any cough that lasts over two weeks could be pertussis, but if you or your child has been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with whooping cough it's important to get to a GP as soon as possible as antibiotics can be administered early in the illness."
The disease can be fatal for infants and seriously affect older children and adults. Immunisation is available for children at the ages of six weeks, three months, five months and boosters can be given to four and 11-year-olds.
Kiwis can visit their GP for more information or to book a booster vaccination.