Pregnant women urged to get vital booster jab

By Mike Dinsdale

A three-week-old baby hospitalised with whooping cough has sparked a warning from health officials for pregnant women to get a booster vaccination against the disease as the number of cases in Northland soars past last year's total.

Last year there were 82 reported cases of whooping cough in Northland, but so far this year there had been 93 cases notified, including the three-week-old baby badly affected last week.

New Zealand has been in the grip of a whooping cough epidemic for more than two years and while the number of cases are dropping in most areas, they are on the rise in Northland, Northland District Health Board medical officer of health Clair Mill said.

There have been two reported deaths in New Zealand from whooping coughs since the epidemic started, but neither were in Northland. However said Dr Mills those deaths illustrated how dangerous whooping cough, or pertussis, as it is also known, is. Babies were particularly at risk.

"We know that only between five and 20 per cent of whooping cough cases are notified, so for every case we know of, there are many more that haven't been reported, so it's important that people get their boosters and their kids vaccinated on time," she said.

"The highest risk is for the newborns. They cough and cough and stop breathing and turn blue, which scares the hell out of their parents, and they can need to be in hospital for days or weeks."

Pregnant women can get a booster jab for free from their birthing unit or GP, and it's recommended for the last third of their pregnancy to provide protection for the unborn child until it is vaccinated. Children are supposed to have whooping cough immunisations at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months old, but in Northland far too many parents were missing out on some of the jabs for their kids, Dr Mills said.

"They (jabs) are so important, but in Northland by six months old only 60 per cent of children are fully immunised (with the three jabs) but it should be between 90 per cent and 95 per cent," she said.

"There's a lot of whooping cough out there in the community at the moment and we don't want things to get any worse."

The highly-infectious disease is caused by bacteria which damages the breathing tubes and is spread by coughing and sneezing. Whooping cough is potentially fatal for babies and children. Infected babies may not be able to feed or breathe properly and can suffer complications such as pneumonia and brain damage.

Contact the Immunisation Advisory Centre(IMAC) on 0800 466 863, your family health centre, Manaia Health 0800 466 738 or 094381015 or Te Tai Tokerau PHO 094083142.

- Northern Advocate

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