Hunter New England Health is urging the community to immunise against pertussis (whooping cough) following a peak in cases.
Dr David Durrheim from Hunter New England Population Health said 275 cases of pertussis have been reported in the Hunter New England Local Health District so far this year. That’s compared to 79 cases for the same period last year. Periodic outbreaks every three years occur in Australia.
“Many of the reported cases are in school aged children who were immunised as infants but whose protection from the vaccine has worn off,” said Dr Massey. “Generally the vaccine provides three to five years of solid protection.”
“Maintaining up to date immunisation is essential to protect against pertussis.”
NSW Health will now provide free vaccinations against pertussis to pregnant women during their third trimester, after evidence showed it lessened the risk of infants catching the potentially fatal infection through antibody protection passed on to them by their mothers.
Dr Durrheim said NSW Health will fund the new initiative during the current outbreak of whooping cough.
“We urge pregnant women to ensure they are vaccinated in their third trimester, ideally at 28-32 weeks, as it offers the best protection for babies until their first vaccination at six to eight weeks of age,” said Dr Durrheim.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) which is responsible for endorsing the Australian Immunisation Handbook, updated its advice after a review of available evidence showed that immunising pregnant mothers in the third trimester significantly reduces the incidence of whooping cough in newborn babies, and therefore lessens the risk of infant death.
“Studies in the UK, United States and Israel provide evidence that the best way to protect infants too young to be vaccinated themselves – who are at highest risk of morbidity and mortality – is through vaccinating the mother during pregnancy.” said Dr Durrheim, “and these studies have shown that vaccination of pregnant women with this vaccine is safe.”
“It is vital that parents also ensure all their children are up to date with their vaccinations to minimise the risk of whooping cough circulating in the family. Adults in close contact with young babies should also discuss the benefits of the vaccine, which is available on prescription, with their GP.
“Whooping cough is easily spread to new babies, so it’s important to keep people with coughs away from them, in case they have whooping cough or other nasty infections,” he said.
Pertussis is a serious respiratory infection that causes a long coughing illness. In babies, the infection can sometimes lead to pneumonia and occasionally brain damage, and can be life threatening.