A NORTH Coast baby girl has died from whooping cough, prompting health officials to offer free vaccinations to combat the rising epidemic of the disease.
NSW Health reported that a four-week-old baby girl, a resident of the North Coast, was admitted to hospital last week and died in intensive care in Brisbane on Monday.
It is believed to be the first case of a baby dying from whooping cough in NSW since 2000 and nationally since 2004.
The death comes at a time when the North Coast is in the midst of a major outbreak of the disease, with more than 1000 cases reported in 2008 making it the worst year on record.
Across the State there have been 3356 cases of whooping cough in January and February this year, a massive increase from 448 cases reported at the same time last year.
On the North Coast last year, 37 people with whooping cough were admitted to hospital, 17 of which were babies aged less than 12 months.
And since the outbreak shows no sign of losing its momentum, NSW Health is offering free vaccination for all new parents, grandparents and people who care for new babies.
North Coast communities with low vaccination rates have had more than eight times the rate of disease seen in other areas with high vaccination rates.
NSW Health Director of Communicable Disease, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said parents must be on the look out for the symptoms of whooping cough, which include a runny nose, tiredness and a mild fever.
“Whooping cough is easily spread to other people, and someone with the disease will be able to spread it for up to three weeks after onset,” Dr McAnulty said.
“The best way to protect babies is to keep them away from anyone with a cough and make sure their immunisations are up to date, as well as ensuring others in the household are vaccinated.”
NSW Health is preparing letters to all new parents advising of arrangements for the free vaccine.