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Whooping cough protecting baby starts in pregnancy

New Zealand is in the early stages of a national outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis). Babies aged up to one are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough.

Whooping cough, also know as pertussis, is very infectious and distressing. It is caused by bacteria spread between people by coughing and sneezing. It starts with a runny nose, fever and dry cough.  The coughing gets worse after a few weeks and often there are attacks of coughing and vomiting. Babies might also have periods when they can’t breath and a ‘whoop’ sound as they breath in after a bout of coughing.

Public health medicine specialist Dr Richard Hoskins confirms that the Waikato is currently experiencing what looks like the start of the next outbreak/epidemic. The graph shows cases in our region this year compared to the last three years, and the map shows where the cases have been reported from since 1 September.

“Young babies are most at risk of serious complications from whooping cough.” said Dr Hoskins.

“The most effective way to protect babies is for their mother to be immunised during pregnancy (between 28 and 38 weeks) so that antibodies are passed on to the baby and provide some protection until their first immunisation at six weeks.

“In order to provide the best protection babies should get immunisations on time (at 6 weeks, 3 & 5 months, 4 & 11 years) to ensure ongoing protection.

“The immunisations do wear off over time, the aim of the NZ immunisation schedule is protect the most vulnerable and try to stop those around them passing it on.”

If you think you or someone in your house may have whooping cough please keep them away from places where they might pass it on to others. You can phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 for free advice, or see your GP.  If you’re not sure if you or your family are up to date with immunisations, please contact your family doctor to check. For more information visit https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/whooping-cough. The most reliable evidence based information about immunisation is at and http://www.immune.org.nz/diseases/pertussis.

Dr Richard Hoskins

Public Health Medicine Specialist / Medical Officer of Health / Clinical Director



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