Whooping cough on the rise

Cathy O'Leary Medical Editor

Parents are being urged to check their children are up to date with their vaccinations after a sharp increase in whooping cough cases in the South West.

The WA Country Health Service said yesterday that 220 cases of the respiratory infection had been reported to the South West Public Health Unit by the end of last week, compared with 101 cases for all last year.

South West public health physician Naru Pal said notifications in the region peaked at 47 cases in October and, although there now appeared to be some fall, whooping cough activity remained high in some communities.

"The disease affects people of all ages but the rise in infections is particularly concerning for children under six months of age, in whom infection can be very severe and even life threatening," Dr Pal said.

"There have been eight hospitalisations associated with whooping cough including two under 12 months of age."

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an acute respiratory infection that spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. There have been more than 1500 cases in WA this year, about 1200 in Perth.

The Health Department said the best way to protect babies was to ensure their siblings, parents, grandparents and other carers were immunised so they could not pass on the infection.

Children needed to be up to date with their whooping cough vaccines, including the booster doses given at four years old and in Year 8 at school.