WHOOPING COUGH: Almost 95 per cent of infants in NSW are now vaccinated against the disease.
WHOOPING COUGH: Almost 95 per cent of infants in NSW are now vaccinated against the disease.

The surprising whooping cough stats from the Northern Rivers

LAST year, a marked reduction in the number of diagnosed cases of whooping cough on the Northern Rivers was experienced compared to previous years.

The Northern NSW Local Health District confirmed there were 132 cases of whooping cough in the area in 2019.

This was significantly fewer than the 402 cases reported in 2018, and 468 cases in 2017.

The latest Australian Immunisation Register quarterly report showed that at September 2019 89.97 per cent of five-year- olds and 87.67 per cent of 12-month-olds in the Northern NSW Local Health District were fully vaccinated.

The health authority also said almost 95 per cent of infants in NSW were now vaccinated against the disease.

Greg Bell, Acting Director, North Coast Public Health Unit, said periodic spikes and outbreaks can occur in communities every three to four years as community immunity wanes over time, regardless of whether the immunity was due to being vaccinated or from having the disease.

"The current whooping cough vaccine remains effective and is the single best protection against the disease," he said.

"Timely vaccination of infants, preschool children, adolescents and adults in accordance with the recommended schedule is 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.

"The primary aim of whooping cough control is to protect infants, who are at highest risk of severe disease or death if they contract whooping cough."

Australia's whooping cough epidemic from 2008 to 2012 saw more than 140,000 cases - with a peak of almost 40,000 in 2011 - and revealed the rise of evolving strains able to evade vaccine-generated immunity.

In a series of UNSW studies, with the latest published last week in scientific journal Vaccine, UNSW researchers took this knowledge further and showed, in a world-first discovery, that the evolving strains made additional changes to better survive in their host, regardless of that person's vaccination status.

They also identified new antigens as potential vaccine targets.

First author and microbiologist Dr Laurence Luu, who led the team of researchers with Professor Ruiting Lan, said whooping cough's ability to adapt to vaccines and survival in humans might be the answer to its surprise resurgence despite Australia's high vaccination rates.