There has been a significant increase in the number of pertussis cases reported in the last four weeks, compared to the same period in 2016. Pertussis epidemics occur regularly every three to five years, so we expect this to be the early stages of an epidemic and rates are likely to continue to increase. Young babies are at highest risk of severe disease and the main focus is on protecting them.
From 1 January–10 November 2017, a total of 1315 cases of whooping cough were notified around the country. Of these cases, 82 were babies aged under one year old. Half of these babies were hospitalised.
From 2011 to 2013 there were four deaths from whooping cough, three were babies too young to have started their immunisations.
Babies aged under one year are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough, but are at greatest risk of severe disease in the first few months of life.
The free maternal immunisation programme provides the best protection for mothers and newborn babies. When pregnant women are immunised, they pass their immunity on to their baby, protecting them for their first few months of life, until baby is fully immunised. The protection the baby gets from their mother is temporary so it is very important to start baby’s immunisations on time at 6 weeks.
- Receiving the free whooping cough booster during pregnancy is the best way to reduce the risk of a newborn being hospitalised from whooping cough. Nine out of ten babies will be protected in this way.
- On-time immunisation of babies at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months is the next important way of reducing the risk to our young children.
It’s important to raise awareness of timely immunisations as a crucial way for parents/whānau and pregnant women to protect their babies and children against whooping cough. As health professionals, please continue to promote immunisation amongst your clients/patients. You could also encourage your colleagues, especially those working with babies, children and pregnant women, to be immunised against whooping cough if it is 10 or more years since their previous whooping cough booster immunisation.