Whooping cough rise sparks fears of epidemic

Doctors are pleading with parents to vaccinate their children – and themselves – as whooping cough numbers spike around the country.

Pertussis cases have risen 70 per cent in Victoria in the first six months of this year. There have been 2324 cases of whooping cough as of June 10, compared with 1352 this time last year, reports Seven News.

In Queensland, students at three Brisbane schools have been hit by the highly contagious virus. The state’s Department of Education and Training is working with the schools to contain the illness, the Courier Mail reports.

And in the ACT, 168 people have been diagnosed with whooping cough so far this year – which is more than double than the same period last year, reports the ABC.

Australian Medical Association spokesman Dr Stephen Parnis tells Seven News that while deaths from whooping cough are relatively uncommon, “they are an entirely avoidable tragedy”. “One of the concerns we have is that herd immunity is decreasing, that we haven’t got enough people in the population who are up to date with whooping cough vaccination,” he says.

Most at risk are young babies, especially in the first four months before they have received two doses of the whooping cough vaccination. Abut one in every 200 newborns who catches whooping cough will die from pneumonia or brain damage.

Mums-to-be are now encouraged to have a whooping cough vaccination in their third trimester to help protect their babies in those first precious weeks of life. Other adults are also advised to boost their immunity against pertussis to reduce infection levels, especially if they care for young children.

Whooping cough starts out similar to a head cold, with symptoms including a runny nose, sneezing and lethargy. According to the federal Department of Health, whooping cough causes uncontrolled coughing and vomiting that can last several months. It’s spread through the air by coughing, sneezing or close contact with an infected person.

From July 1 next year, parents will be penalised financially through childcare benefits, the childcare rebate and family assistance if they refuse to vaccinate their children. The Federal Government’s “no jab, no pay, no play” policy aims to reduce the number of whooping cough deaths. One of the tiny victims of whooping cough this year was one-month-old Riley John Hughes, who died in hospital on March 17. Read the heartbreaking message from his parents about the importance of vaccination.

Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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