The number of people who have caught whooping cough in NZ doubled from 2010 to 2011 with over 2,014 people diagnosed, 127 people hospitalised and one death. Every three to five years NZ sees a peak in whooping cough; experience tells us that we can expect more hospitalisations, particularly for babies too young to be fully protected.
Whooping cough is an easy to catch disease; nine out of ten babies who haven’t yet completed their vaccination course for whooping cough will catch it if someone in their house is infected and over 70% of infant cases are caught off a parent or close family member. The infection spreads easily through a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, sharing food or even kissing between family members.
A baby’s protection against whooping cough is built up over a course of three vaccinations given at 6 weeks, 3 and 5 months of age. However, until fully vaccinated a baby is dependent on those closest for whooping cough protection.
Whooping cough can affect older children and adults resulting in prolonged bouts of coughing that can last for many weeks, but it is more serious in babies especially during the first 5 months when they are too young to be fully vaccinated. A baby with whooping cough might go blue or appear to stop breathing. In severe cases it can lead to pneumonia, fits, brain damage and even death.
Even if you have previously been vaccinated or had whooping cough, like with tetanus, immunity reduces over time. Because of this, a whooping cough booster is recommended (but not funded) for adults who will be in close contact with a newborn. If you’re a new parent or planning on becoming a new parent you should speak to your doctor about a whooping cough booster for you and other close family members to help protect your newborn child.