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The media has given plenty of attention to parents who don’t immunise their children; indeed we’ve debated it here and here (just do it do it do it).

But what about adults. And teens? Did you know the whooping cough vaccine wears off after 5-7 years?

I found this out the hard way when our eldest son caught whooping cough in the current outbreak going around schools in NSW. In fact the parents of newborns in areas with low vaccination levels have been urged to keep their babies away from shopping centres and large gatherings where they could become infected.

According to a vaccination study released in March by The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) only 11% of adults are vaccinated for pertussis (whooping cough). The rate is much higher among parents of newborns as some states like NSW, SA and WA offer a FREE booster shot for new parents, grandparents and carers. As whooping cough is very contagious, 95% of the whole community (adults and children) are required to combat it. So, unless everyone gets boosters on time, herd immunity is always breached.

According to NSW Health:

Why is whooping cough so serious?

The spread of whooping cough has killed seven newborns in the last two years and over 5,500 cases of whooping cough have been reported in NSW so far this year. It can just be an annoying cough for adults and older children but for babies it can sometimes be life threatening. Severity is closely related to a baby’s age. Newborns and premature infants are at greatest risk. Whooping cough in babies can lead to:

  • Apnoea (pauses in normal breathing)
  • Pneumonia
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Feeding problems leading to weight loss
  • Seizures or brain damage when breathing problems, heart failure or pneumonia interfere with oxygen getting to the brain.
  • Very low blood pressure which can lead to failure of other organs.
  • Some babies need treatment in hospital and some require treatment in intensive care. Older children don’t usually have life-threatening infections and only rarely require hospitaliasation.

THE SYMPTOMS

  • Whooping cough starts like a cold with a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, a mild fever and an occasional cough.
  • The cough gets worse and severe bouts of uncontrollable coughing develop. Coughing bouts can be followed by vomiting, choking or taking a big gasping breath which causes a “whooping” sound. The cough can last for many weeks and can be worse at night.
  • Some newborns may not cough at all but stop breathing completely and turn blue. Other babies have difficulties feeding or they can choke and gag.
  • Older children and adults may just have a mild cough that doesn’t go away. In adults, the cough commonly lasts 5-7 weeks, sometimes longer.

If you missed 60 Minutes this weekend, you can watch the ‘Getting the Point’ story below:

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