Whooping cough alert

18 October 2010

NSW Health is warning parents to be on the alert for whooping cough following an increase in the number of school-aged children diagnosed with the disease over the last few weeks.

Whooping cough – also known as pertussis – is a serious respiratory infection that causes a long coughing illness, and can be life-threatening for babies.

Older children can bring home whooping cough from school or childcare and the infection can then be passed on to babies in the home.

NSW Health spokesman Dr Jeremy McAnulty said parents can protect newborns by making sure their baby's vaccines are up-to-date and watching out for new coughs in their older children.

"Parents need to ensure that they protect their babies from anyone with a new cough, especially older children who may have picked up whooping cough from school," Dr McNulty said.

Whooping cough boosters are important for older children at four years and later in high school because immunity fades with time. This means that children and adults can still get the infection even if they've been immunised against the disease.

Symptoms

Whooping cough starts like a cold with a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, a mild fever and an occasional cough. The cough usually gets worse and severe bouts of uncontrollable coughing develop. This can be followed by vomiting, choking or taking big gasping breaths which causes the "whooping"sound.

The cough can last for many weeks and can be worse at night. Some older children and adults just get a cough that doesn't go away and they may not get any of the other symptoms.

Whooping cough is highly infectious in the first three weeks and can spread easily through families, childcare centres and schools. General practitioners can test for whooping cough and treat early infections to reduce spread to other people.

Anyone who is infectious with whooping cough should avoid contact with babies and stay at home from work, school or childcare until they are no longer at risk of passing the infection on.

For a limited time, a free adult booster is still available for new parents and other adults who care for babies up to 12 months of age. New parents can get their booster from their general practitioner.

Find out more information about whooping cough.

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