A SPIKE in cases of whooping cough in Coffs Harbour and Bellingen have sparked a warning by the North Coast Public Health Unit.
The number of reported whooping cough cases has climbed steeply in the past fortnight, with 25 cases reported in the past two weeks and 81 cases (including five infants) reported so far in 2015.
North Coast Public Health Unit Director Paul Corben said this was well above the 27 cases reported over the same period in 2014.
"Bellingen and Coffs Harbour local government areas are the focus of this recent increase, with all other parts of the NSW north coast remaining below five-year averages at this time. Most cases are amongst school-aged children and a number of local schools have been affected," Mr Corben said.
"Vaccination is still the single best way to prevent whooping cough although not everyone will get an immune response and immunity wanes with time. This means that people can still get whooping cough if they have been vaccinated or if they have had previous infection.
"Because of the waning of protection, epidemics of whooping cough occur about every three to four years, as community immunity wears down. The last outbreak was in early 2012 and we are seeing signs that indicate we are starting to experience another one," Mr Corben said.
"Babies too young to be vaccinated are the most vulnerable to whooping cough so it is particularly important that we do everything we can to protect them.
"Firstly, we strongly urge pregnant women to ensure they are vaccinated against whooping cough in their third trimester, ideally at 28 to 32 weeks, as it offers the best protection for babies until their first vaccination at six to eight weeks of age," Mr Corben said.
"It is also vital that parents ensure all their children are up to date with their vaccinations to minimise the risk of whooping cough circulating in the family and at school. Adults in close contact with young babies should also discuss the benefits of the vaccine, which is available on prescription, with their GP.
"It's also very important to keep people with coughs away from young babies, in case they have whooping cough or other nasty infections," Mr Corben said.
Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a serious respiratory infection that causes a long coughing illness. In babies, the infection can sometimes lead to pneumonia and occasionally brain damage. It can be life threatening and is sometimes fatal.
Whooping cough usually begins like a cold with a blocked or runny nose, tiredness, mild fever and a cough. The cough gets worse and severe bouts of uncontrollable coughing can develop.
Coughing bouts can be followed by vomiting, choking or taking a big gasping breath which causes a "whooping" sound. The cough can last for many weeks and can be worse at night. Some newborns may not cough at all but they can stop breathing and turn blue. Some babies have difficulties feeding and can choke or gag. Older children and adults may just have a cough that lasts for many weeks. They may not have the whoop.
Whooping cough disease notifications have been increasing steadily across NSW since mid-2014. So far in 2015 there have been 2445 cases reported across the state compared to 739 in 2014 and 1005 in 2013 for the same time periods.
There is a fact sheet and other resources about whooping cough on the NSW Health website at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/whoopingcough/Pages/default.aspx