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Big spike in whooping cough brings warning

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Michael PhilippsSouth Western Times

Bunbury parents are being urged to check their children for signs of whooping cough after a surge of reports of the disease in the city.

WA Country Health Service South West acting director of population health Sharlene Abbott said a total of 75 cases of whooping cough had been reported to the South West Population Health Unit as of May 1, compared to 28 cases at the same time last year.

“Cases have been reported predominantly in the Greater Bunbury area, but also from other South West towns,” she said.

“Whooping cough is a cyclical disease, with epidemics occurring every three to four years, even in highly immunised populations.

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“The last epidemic in the South West was in 2015 when there were over 400 reported cases.”

Ms Abbott said whooping cough was a highly infectious disease that could be life threatening for babies and young children.

“Coughing can occur in bouts, followed by a deep gasp or ‘whoop’ in infants,” she said.

“Young infants infected with whooping cough may stop breathing or turn blue, experience pauses in normal breathing, pneumonia, feeding problems and weight loss, seizures, brain damage and, in some cases, death.

“Older children and adults may have a less serious illness with bouts of coughing that continue for weeks regardless of treatment.”

Ms Abbott said babies under six months will not have been fully vaccinated so they remain vulnerable to whooping cough.

“The advice of WA Country Health’s South West Population Health Unit is the best way to protect babies is to keep them away from anyone with a cough and to make sure their immunisations are up to date,” she said.

“To reduce the risk of whooping cough in young infants, a free vaccination is recommended for pregnant women during their third trimester (from 28-32 weeks) of every pregnancy.

“Children can have free doses of a pertussis-containing vaccine at 6-8 weeks, four, and six months of age, followed by a booster dose at 18 months, 3.5-4 years of age and in Year 8 at school.

“A booster vaccine is also recommended for parents, grandparents and carers of babies, such as child care workers.”

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