Whooping cough on rise

Tissues and tea are the key for Dunedin student Britt Pickett as she recovers from whooping cough...
Tissues and tea are the key for Dunedin student Britt Pickett as she recovers from whooping cough. Photo by Tim Miller.
Dunedin's whooping cough outbreak has worsened - and many more people might unknowingly have the illness. David de Lorean reports.

Whooping cough is making Dunedin sick - at a pace worse than that of the previous three years combined.

There had been 119 cases of whooping cough diagnosed in Dunedin by the end of June, more than the number of notified cases for all of 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Dunedin student Britt Pickett (21) is one of the victims.

''I felt like I was dying, to be honest. I didn't feel like I wanted to do much; I kind of just wanted to be in bed,'' she said.

The coughing fits whooping cough is known for had affected her badly, she said.

''I had difficulty breathing.''

They were so severe she was prescribed morphine to suppress them. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, was still being diagnosed at higher levels than usual in Dunedin and across New Zealand, Southern District Health Board (SDHB) public health physician Dr Keith Reid said.

''The vast majority of the notifications [in the Southern District] are of cases in Dunedin - 22 in June,'' he said. Between April and June, there were 47 notified cases, more than double the number of notifications for the corresponding period in 2010, 2011 and 2012 combined.

''Since pertussis can often go unrecognised there are likely to be many more people suffering from the condition,'' Dr Reid said. SDHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Marion Poore said whooping cough often went undiagnosed until it was in its advanced stages.

''The infectious period is for 21 days from the onset of the mild, cold-like symptoms and before the coughing starts.''

This meant people could spread the illness around without realising, she said.

''If you are sick, then stay home.''

Whooping cough usually starts with a cough and runny nose. After a few days, coughing fits develop, which can lead to retching and vomiting.

Sick people should see their doctor to be treated with antibiotics.

''Vaccination is the best defence against pertussis and we encourage those who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated,'' Dr Reid said.

Children could be vaccinated at the ages of 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months, he said. The vaccine was also available for pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks. More than 8800 people nationally have developed whooping cough since August 2011.

- by David de Lorean

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