Whooping cough epidemic spreads

By Kiri Gillespie - with APN


More than half the number of whooping cough cases in the Western Bay of Plenty have involved adults who have unwittingly helped spread the disease to epidemic proportions.

Nationally the number of adults with whooping cough, also known as pertussis, has soared in recent years. Institute of Environmental Science and Research figures showed 5900 notifications of the disease reported last year, more than double the 2014 reported in 2011, and the rate of hospitalisation for people aged 30 to 70 increased markedly last year compared with 2011.

Of the 309 people treated in hospital for the illness last year, two died, and 182 were aged under 1.

Toi Te Ora Public Health Service medical officer of health Dr Phil Shoemack said the Western Bay of Plenty was "very much" part of the epidemic, which began in the Canterbury area in 2011.

It has since spread across New Zealand and unwitting, infected adults were the reason why, including those who had vaccines as children.

"With pertussis it does seem to wane over time and one of the consequences of this is that adults are often responsible for spreading it to children."

Infected adults did not suffer the same severity of the disease as infants did.

"By the time most adults are diagnosed, they usually just have a hacking cough for a few weeks which begins to annoy them, so they go to a doctor - by which stage they are likely to have infected others around them."

A Tauranga woman, who would only be known as Donna, said she fell ill the week before Christmas and her voice still had not come right two months later.

"I got really sick. It had been a scratching there for nearly a week. Then suddenly it was a coughing. Christmas Day was coughing all day and then I woke up on Boxing Day not being able to breathe.

"It was hideous actually."

Donna, in her 50s, went to Accident and Emergency at 2nd Ave where she was diagnosed and ordered to stay away from work for at least three weeks.

She said she was shocked, especially after being told she could have passed the disease on to her granddaughter.

"I had no idea I was infected. It was awful. It was two weeks then my husband came down with it. They say it's the 100-day cough."

Dr John Gemming said he noticed a significant number of adults who have had whooping cough, especially over the past 12 to 18 months.

Any adults having trouble shaking off a dry, hacking cough are recommended to consult their GP and children are encouraged to be vaccinated.

While there was no treatment to help shorten the length of time of symptoms, antibiotics could be given to help prevent the spread of infection. Toi Te Ora were offering a free vaccine for all pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy from their GP.


Other adults caring for infants were advised to consider having a booster. More information is available on 0800 IMMUNE or www.immune.org.nz.


Warning over 'horrible' illness


A Whakamarama mum of four is still recovering from whooping cough which saw her coughing to the point of throwing up.


Rachel Walker said she was coughing only three to four times a day now, compared to five-minute coughing fits each hour. "It went from clearing my throat all the time ... then coughing until I was throwing up and not being able to breathe until that happened," Mrs Walker said.

A registered nurse, she said she thought she had a cold when she picked up the disease four weeks ago.

After no improvement, she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with whooping cough. Mrs Walker, husband Craig Walker and their children aged, 1, 4, 7 and 14 years, were all given antibiotics. Mr Walker has only just been cleared to return to his job as a teacher.

"It really is horrible. Our 4-year-old got it also but not as bad, it was going around her school and I'm guessing that's where we got it from," Mrs Walker said. "If people think they have got it, it's important to go to the doctor and get antibiotics. Otherwise you could be passing it on for a month after you get it."

Mrs Walker said most adults she met assumed because they had a vaccine as a child, they were not at risk, but this was wrong.

"We should all be getting boosters," she said.

By the numbers


Whooping cough cases in the Western Bay of Plenty in the past year:

7 babies aged under 1 year

26 aged 1-4 years

42 from 5-20 years

63 from 20-49 years

33 from 50-69 years

5 people aged over 70


What is whooping cough?


Whooping cough (pertussis) symptoms start with a runny nose and dry cough. Coughing gets worse during the next few weeks developing into attacks of coughing. The "whoop" sound occurs as babies draw a breath after a long coughing attack. Children often gasp for air and some make a "whooping" sound. They may also vomit after coughing attacks. Babies might go blue or stop breathing during coughing attacks. Most children are well between the coughing spells. In older children and adults whooping cough may present as an unexplained persistent cough that goes on for more than two weeks. The cough may last for up to three months. www.ttophs.govt.nz

- Bay of Plenty Times

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