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3 January 2012

Whooping cough cases on the rise

The Department of Health is encouraging parents of young children to be aware of the symptoms of whooping cough and to ensure their families' vaccinations are up-to-date.

A total of 3597 cases of whooping cough have been reported to the Department to the 23 December 2011, compared to 1458 cases for the whole of 2010.

Director of Communicable Disease Control Dr Paul Armstrong said notifications in Western Australia peaked at 704 cases for the month of November 2011, and although there now appeared to be some decrease, whooping cough activity in the community remained high.

"WA's last whooping cough epidemic was in 2004, and we have been overdue for a big year, which typically occurs every three to four years," Dr Armstrong said.

"The increase in WA is consistent with whooping cough activity in other states in recent years. 

"Whooping cough affects people of all ages but the rise in infections is particularly concerning for children under six months of age, in whom infection can be very severe and even life threatening."

There have been four deaths associated with whooping cough in babies in the past four years in WA.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an acute respiratory infection, which is transmitted from one person to another through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

"Whooping cough usually begins just like a cold with a runny nose, tiredness and sometimes a mild fever," Dr Armstrong said.

"Coughing then develops, usually in bouts, sometimes followed by a deep gasp or 'whoop'. People may also vomit after coughing

Dr Armstrong said people experiencing whooping cough symptoms should see their general practitioner as soon as possible.

Whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics, which stops the person further spreading infection, although the cough symptoms may still persist for up to several weeks.

While people are infectious they should avoid others and in particular stay away from young children.

"The best way to protect babies from whooping cough is to make sure their parents, grand parents, and other care providers won't get the infection and pass it on to them," Dr Armstrong said.

"Vaccination will decrease the risk of parents and caregivers from catching the infection and passing it on to the child."

Free whooping cough vaccinations are available to new parents, grandparents and household carers of babies under six months of age, from maternity hospitals, community health clinics and private GPs.

Babies older than six months are usually protected by immunity developed from pertussis-containing vaccines administered at two, four and six months of age.

Parents should make sure that all their children are up-to-date with their pertussis vaccines, including the booster doses given at four years of age, and during year 7 of school.

Media contact: 9222 4333

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