IT'S not yet winter but already 21 cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in the Northern Rivers over the past month.
But this could just be the tip of the iceberg as whooping cough is a highly infectious disease, with many cases going unconfirmed if the patients do not visit their doctor.
On February 23, Evans River K-12 School posted on their FB page:
"The school has been notified of confirmed cases of Pertussis (Whooping Cough). We are asking that you stay alert for the symptoms of Pertussis for the next three weeks. If your child has a dry irritable cough that may be worse at night time, often ending with vomiting, gagging or dry retching, that may or may not be associated with an inspiratory whoop at the end of the cough, please consider whooping cough and seek medical advice."
Northern NSW Local Health District, Director Public Health Unit, Paul Corben, said health authorities were aware of the rise of cases numbers.
"In the past 28 days, 21 confirmed cases of whooping cough amongst people residing in the Northern NSW Local Health District were reported to the North Coast Public Health Unit," he said.
"The latest Australian Immunisation Register report shows that in 2017, 89.5 per cent of children aged five years and 89 per cent of 12-month olds were fully vaccinated in the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD)."
Mr Corben said a recent study conducted in all local health districts in NSW shows that vaccinating women during pregnancy is 94 per cent effective in preventing severe whooping cough in their infants during the first six months of life.
"The NSW Health study shows that the $6million spent by the NSW Government so far to provide free whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine since March 2015 has been a great success," he said.
"In 2017-18 the NSW Government is investing $22.75 million in NSW immunisation programs."
Mr Corben said whooping cough vaccination was valuable in preventing severe infection in infants and toddlers, and if unvaccinated, children are infected they are at high risk of severe disease.
"Notifications of whooping cough represent only a portion of disease in the community, as only people who see their doctor and have the infection confirmed by a positive whooping cough test are counted by NSW Health as confirmed cases," he said.
"Whooping cough is challenging to control at the community level, as it is a highly infectious disease and immunity against it wanes over time, regardless of whether that immunity is from having the disease or as a result of vaccination."
Key strategies to identify, protect and prevent whooping cough include:
1. Identify symptoms: Early diagnosis and treatment of whooping cough - see your GP early and follow their treatment advice; after five days of treatment with appropriate antibiotics people with whooping cough are no longer infectious but without proper treatment they will remain infectious for 21 days
2. Protect babies, older children and adults: Timely vaccination of infants, preschool children, adolescents and adults according to the recommended schedule was essential; and vaccination of pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy (preferably at 28 weeks) protects very young babies who are the most vulnerable to severe illness and death from whooping cough
3. Prevent spread: Minimise the spread of whooping cough or other infectious conditions by practising good personal hygiene - staying away from child care, school and work when sick; covering mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing, and regular hand washing can help reduce the spread of whooping cough.
For more information, see http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/infectious/whoopingcough/pages/default.aspx
Find a whooping cough fact sheet at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/whoopingcough/Pages/factsheet.aspx
Free influenza jabs
From April 2018, children between six months and under five years old will be eligible for free influenza jabs, following an additional NSW Government investment of $3.5 million to the state's $19.5 million vaccination program.
In addition, $1.75 million has been invested into NSW Health's influenza and immunisation awareness campaign this year, which will also provide parents and GPs with details about the new free influenza vaccine program.