Bay of Plenty health authorities are reminding people to check they are up to date with immunisations.

Since November 2017, across the Bay of Plenty and Lakes districts there have been 217 cases of whooping cough notified to the local medical officer of health.

Whooping cough (also called pertussis) can be a serious disease. It is caused by bacteria that are easily spread by coughing and sneezing, Dr Natasha Murray, Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health.

"Symptoms usually start with a runny nose and dry cough. The coughing gets worse and can be followed by a gasping breath in or 'whoop', and sometimes vomiting," Dr Murray said.

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Babies under one year old are most at risk of serious complications from whooping cough. They are often unable to feed or breathe properly so become very ill and may end up in hospital.

"Many adults don't realise they have whooping cough, but can still spread it. People with a cough should, if possible, try and avoid contact with young babies."

On-time immunisation is the best way to help protect babies, children, pregnant women and adults from whooping cough. Protection for babies begins in pregnancy with free immunisation for pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.

"By getting immunised each pregnancy, you pass on your immunity to your baby. This helps protect them from birth until their first immunisation at 6 weeks old," Dr Murray said.

"It is really important that babies get their first immunisation on time at 6 weeks. If immunisation is delayed, they are more at risk of catching whooping cough from others."

After the 6 week immunisation, further free childhood immunisations are required for ongoing protection.

Contact your family doctor to check whether you, your baby and other family members are up to date with whooping cough and other immunisations and make an appointment if needed.

For more information visit www.toiteora.govt.nz/whooping_cough