Adults now getting sick from whooping cough
If you were immunised against whooping cough as a child, you may want to consider having a booster shot, writes Antigone Anagnostellis.
The whooping cough epidemic is still taking its toll across Australia and the NSW government has recently initiated new strategies for controlling it.
It will provide free vaccinations for new mothers after researchers identified the high infection risk for newborn babies. This follows the rejection of government-funded adult vaccines by the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).
Dr Kate Charlesworth, from the NSW Health protection unit, said: “There is some new research to show that, of the babies who get whooping cough, the mother is most commonly the one who passes it on to the baby and so from that research we now have this targeted strategy.”
At the epidemic peak in December 2008, NSW Health recorded almost 2000 cases a month, which have now fallen to less than 200 a month.
“Whooping cough can be very severe in babies, in particular the complications include breathing problems, pneumonia and very sadly we’ve seen a couple of deaths,” Dr Charlesworth said.
The childhood vaccine fades over time and so adults can still contract the disease. This March, a team of UNSW scientists reported that a new strain is breaking through the current vaccine.
Corinna Musgrave has just experienced a four-month episode of whooping cough. “I thought that whooping cough was something babies and little kids get I didn’t really think about adults getting it,” she said.
Mrs Musgrave is a mother and owns a business. She first became ill with a cold, which she caught from a domestic flight,but it developed into something serious.
“It was really quite revolting and frightening at the same time because when you’re in a coughing fit you literally can’t breathe and it feels really horrible. I’m not surprised people die of it,” Mrs Musgrave said.
Her husband Mark helped run the family of five while she was ill. He said, “It was awful obviously to see her suffering the way that she was suffering, and it just meant that the rest of the family would have to take up the slack because she was really running on low energy.”
“Understanding now how severe it is, how long it lasts and the fact that there is no real treatment for it, I think it is something that people should take it a lot more seriously,” Mr Musgrave said.
In 2011, the PBAC rejected two applications for a free adult vaccination because of a lack of information on how ‘cocooning’ works, where surrounding adults protect a child from whooping cough by being vaccinated. Dr Charlesworth said that at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, researchers have begun further study on cocooning.
“I guess our key message is that new mothers should get vaccinated early, they should vaccinate their children early and also parents and grandparents, and others should talk to their GP about getting vaccinated as well,” Dr Charlesworth said. “We think this is our best chance of protecting babies from it.”
Mrs Musgrave encouraged her friends and family to get vaccinated. She said, “I believe that the vaccine is effective even if it doesn’t give you 100 per cent, even if it doesn’t last a lifetime — if it has even a partial benefit and someone requests to be given the vaccine, I do believe very strongly it should be given out free of charge.”
Her husband Mark agrees that the government needs to play a role: “I think the government should take it a lot more seriously and I think that vaccinations should be something that the government do sponsor.”