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Whooping cough epidemic

Tuesday, 12th May, 2009

Children in the city would not be immune from a whooping cough epidemic sweeping NSW, according to the local health service.

The Greater Western Area Health Service said there had been a 1,000 per cent increase in the number of whooping cough cases reported to it this year. Statewide, the number of reported cases from January to March was 5,444 - a dramatic rise from the 696 at the same time last year, prompting the NSW Minister for Health to advise doctors to bring the vaccination age of babies forward two weeks. "NSW Health recommends all children be given the combination vaccine to protect against six conditions including whooping cough, this vaccine is normally given at two months, four months and six months of age," Minister John Della Bosca said yesterday. "However, in light of the current outbreak, parents and GPs are asked to bring the first dose forward to six weeks of age to provide earlier protection." There had only been a slight increase in cases in Broken Hill, but the acting manager of communicable diseases, Kathy Seward, said she expected that to change. "We will start to come into alignment with the rest of the State increases," said MS Seward. "It is extremely contagious and is spread through droplets. "Symptoms include a runny nose, tiredness and a fever followed by a cough with the characteristic whoop." Ms Seward said a vaccine and a booster vaccine could help prevent Broken Hill children from catching the disease. "It is preventable," Ms Seward said. "No vaccine is 100 per cent effective but the vaccine we have is a very good one." Ms Seward said whooping cough could be fatal, with children under a year old having the highest mortality rate. Babies are usually given a course of whooping cough vaccine beginning at two months of age. But Ms Seward said the effectiveness of the vaccine lessened as children grew up. "This year we are targeting schools with year 10 students with free booster vaccinations. "Also we are offering a free vaccine to parents and carers of children under the age of one." Ms Seward said if the community could "develop herd immunity" there would be fewer cases. "If a greater number of the community are immunised then those not immunised have less chance getting it," she said. "Once you have caught the disease we can't treat it; we can only treat the symptoms which can go on for up to 100 days." Ms Seward said as the disease was spread through droplets it was important that people were particular in their personal hygiene. "Mind your personal hygiene, wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough."

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