THE infectious disease, whooping cough, is sweeping across the state.
A drastic spike in reported cases has prompted a number of local health districts to implement and extend alerts.
Official figures show infection rates for the potentially fatal disease have doubled in some areas with 3590 cases reported year-to-date for 2016 (state-wide) compared with 1104 cases in 2014.
The most drastic increase in the past two years has been in the Hunter New England area, where 1181 infections have been reported in 2016, 39 of those in the past seven days, and 986 in 2015 compared to just 369 in 2014.
Two other areas are of concern include the Murrumbidgee local health district (which includes Albury) has reported 125 cases in the past month, with 19 of those in the past seven days.
At the end of last week there were 180 cases of whooping cough notified in southern NSW local health district, an increase of 52 incidents compared with the same period last year.
NSW Health communicable diseases director, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said the most recent outbreak of whooping cough started in the middle of 2015 across NSW, peaking in November 2015.
“The numbers have been declining since then,” Ms Sheppeard said.
“But it is a communicable disease and passes from person to person. It is not uniform across the state at any one time.
“It started in metropolitan Sydney and since 2015 has been spreading across the state. That is the nature of a communicable disease.”
Immunisation not foolproof
EVERYONE in the state is being urged to be vigilant about the outbreak of whooping cough.
NSW Health Communicable Diseases director Dr Vicky Sheppeard said the increase wasn’t related to immunisation, but vaccination is critical.
“We don’t see a lot of variation in whooping cough rates according to vaccination status,” Ms Sheppeard said.
“What we do see is infants are protected with the vaccine.
“Deaths of infants that we have had in NSW from whooping cough in the last five years have mainly been in low vaccination areas and, unfortunately, babies too young to be vaccinated.”
Ms Sheppeard said it vaccination might not mean you couldn’t contract the disease.
“As far as preventing the disease goes, it’s not the most effective vaccine we have,” she said.
“If you look at the measles vaccine it is two doses and 99 per cent effective in preventing the measles infection.
“Whooping cough vaccine is 80 to 85pc effective in preventing infection.
“But the vaccine is very effective at preventing severe disease and death.
“People can still catch whooping cough, but they don’t die and are less likely to be hospitalised.”
Ms Sheppeard said awareness is vital when containing the virus, especially infants from birth to six weeks’, who cannot be immunised.
In NSW the vaccination course begins at six weeks and the second dose is due at four months.
The full primary course is completed with a booster at four years of age.
A booster at 18-months has also been recently introduced.
“After two doses it is very unusual for children to get the severe form of whooping cough,” Ms Sheppeard said.
With a longer incubation period than the common cold or flu, someone with whooping cough will be able to spread it to other people for up to three weeks after onset, unless they are treated with antibiotics.
In April 2015 a free vaccination was introduced for all pregnant women that, said Ms Sheppeard, is helping close the immunity gap for the first few months of life.
“By vaccinating the mother in the third trimester of each pregnancy the mother develops higher anti-body levels that are passed passively onto the infant and gives the infant increased protection until their vaccination course commences,” she said.
She said despite the large outbreak there were no recorded deaths.
An adult should have a booster every 10 years, but better is every five.
“So far in NSW since we have had that program going, we have had no deaths in infants despite the fact that we have had a very big outbreak.”