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September 19, 2011

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

The West Coast's Medical Officer of Health is urging parents to keep children home from school or preschool, and to stay at home from work themselves, if they develop a cough, as part of measures to combat an outbreak of whooping cough on the West Coast. The outbreak is centred on Hokitika in Westland.

Since the beginning of May there have been 134 notifications of suspected pertussis (whooping cough) on the West Coast with 57 cases confirmed and 17 possible cases awaiting results of laboratory testing.

Dr Cheryl Brunton, the West Coast Medical Officer of Health, says that while the outbreak seemed to be waning during the July school holidays, it had begun to increase again in recent weeks.

"At the moment, thankfully, there have been no cases in infants under one year old. Children under one are at risk of contracting pertussis because they haven't yet had, or haven't completed their immunisations against the disease. If they do get it, they are the group most at risk of serious complications or even death".

The median age of the cases is 27 years with ages ranging from 14 months to 61 years. The most common age group is school-age children followed by the 40-49 age group.

Dr Brunton said low levels of pertussis infection can be present in the community most of the time. "With some people choosing not to vaccinate, for whatever reason, and the fact that no immunisation is 100 per cent effective, there is always the opportunity for an outbreak like this to develop, particularly if immunisation coverage rates are not high enough to create what's called "herd immunity".

"Also, immunity does wane with age, so older people can contract it even if they have been immunised as a child. This might not be serious for them, but it does mean they could infect an unimmunised child. So it is important that children and older people with a cough limit their contact with others, particularly babies and the elderly."

Dr Brunton said pertussis is spread by airborne droplets and there are simple things people can do to help limit its spread, "If you are coughing or sneezing, use a tissue, wash and dry your hands frequently and stay home when you are unwell with a cough".

"The incubation period for pertussis is 7-10 days although the range is 5-21 days. So if someone goes to work, school or pre-school with a persistent cough, by the time they find out they have pertussis the damage has probably been done as far as spreading it to other children and workmates. It's really important to see your doctor early if you are unwell with a cough so that you can be assessed and treated if necessary to help reduce the risk to others".

Early intervention with antibiotics helps to prevent spread, Dr Brunton said. "But the best protection against pertussis is still on-time immunisation." Immunisation against pertussis is free as part of the national childhood immunisation programme.


For further information please contact

Bryan Jamieson
Community Liaison Officer
West Coast DHB
PO Box 387
Greymouth 7840
Phone (DDI): (03) 769-7665
Mobile: 027 245-9595
Email: This is not a link as we want to prevent spam.  Please transfer the email address on the image carefully into your email client before sending the email.  You might find, with some older email addresses on this site that they are no longer current, for staff-change reasons.  If your email bounces back please contact the WCDHB Communications Team - see Contacts section of this site.

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