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Torres and Cape residents urged to vaccinate against whooping cough

15 February 2018

Health authorities are encouraging Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula Area residents to
ensure they and their children are vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis).

The warning comes following the confirmation of a case of whooping cough at Injinoo in the Northern
Peninsula Area – the first such case for the year in the Torres Strait and Cape York regions.

Tropical Public Health Services (Cairns) Director Dr Richard Gair said 26 whooping cough cases had
been notified in the Torres and Cape HHS region in 2017, five in 2016 and none in 2015.

“But notified cases are always only the tip of the iceberg. Many more cases occur who may not be so
sick as to go to the doctor, or may not be tested,’’ he said.

Dr Gair said whooping cough was highly contagious and could affect people of any age.

“It can start with cold-like symptoms and an irritating cough which can develop into bouts of coughing
that might be followed by dry retching or vomiting,’’ he said.

“In children, the cough may end with a crowing noise (the whoop) as air is drawn back into the chest,’’ he
said.

“Adults and older children may have only mild symptoms, but can still pass the infection to others
including babies.

“Whooping cough bacteria are highly infectious and are spread to other people by an infected person
coughing and sneezing.

“The infection can also be passed on through direct contact with infected secretions from the mouth or
nose.

“The time between exposure to the bacteria and getting sick is usually seven to 10 days, but can be up
to three weeks. A person is most infectious in the early stages of their illness.

“Unless treated with appropriate antibiotics for at least five days, a person is regarded as infectious for
three weeks after the cough began.’’

Dr Gair said for adolescents and adults, the infection may only cause a persistent cough.

“But it can be a very serious disease in infants, particularly before they have completed five doses of
routine pertussis-containing vaccines,’’ he said.

“Most babies with whooping cough catch it from a parent or close family member or carer and it can
easily spread through families, day care centres and at schools.

“That’s why it’s also important for adults who are around children to be fully vaccinated.

“Immunisation reduces the risk of infection and is an important way of protecting both babies and adults
from infection.

“But as people get older their immunisation protection weakens, so you should ensure your booster
vaccinations are up to date.

“If you’re not sure, contact your GP or child health nurse or local health facility and have your own and
your children’s vaccinations done as soon as possible.’’

The vaccine is available free in Queensland for:

  • All infants and children at age 6 weeks, 4 months, 6 months, 18 months and 4 years of age
  • Children at school in Year 7.
  • Pregnant women in the third trimester of each individual pregnancy.
  • All people aged 10–19 years who have not had an initial course of pertussis vaccination.

A fee may be required for those not in the above specified groups. Your health provider will be able to
advise if this is so and how much it will be.

Dr Gair said adults, child care workers and health care workers who were caring for a baby less than six
months old also should have a whooping cough booster vaccine.

“As whooping cough can cause severe disease in the elderly, adults who are 65 years of age also are
recommended to have a single booster dose of whooping cough vaccine if they haven’t received one
already in the previous 10 years,’’ he said.

Dr Gair said complications of whooping cough in babies included pneumonia, fits and brain damage from
prolonged lack of oxygen.

“Anyone with symptoms of whooping cough should see their doctor or go to their primary health clinic for
diagnosis and treatment, as early treatment can help prevent the infection spreading,’’ he said.

“You should also stay home from work if you are sick so you don’t infect others.

“Also don’t send sick children to day care or school until they have completed all their antibiotics.

“A person with whooping cough should stay away from work, school, pre-school or child care until they
have had at least five days of their course of antibiotics, or until 21 days after the first sign of any
coughing, or until 14 days after the severe bouts of coughing began.’’

ENDS

Media contact: James Guthrie, (07) 3708 5379

Last updated: 16 February 2018