Adults With Whooping Cough Risk Babies' Health

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The Department of Health is advising new parents and couples planning a pregnancy to consider a whooping cough booster after a recent study showed that 42 per cent of babies with whooping cough caught the disease from their mother.

Director of Communicable Disease Control Dr Paul Van Buynder said 12 children under one year of age had been diagnosed with the disease in Western Australia so far this year, with 10 of them needing admission to hospital.

“This compares to only four cases in this age group for the whole of last year,” he said.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an acute respiratory infection, which is transmitted from one person to another through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs.

“Whooping cough is commonly thought of as a childhood illness but in populations where there is high infant and child immunisation, it’s adults who pass on the infection,” Dr Van Buynder said.

“Adult whooping cough is not generally life-threatening but the danger is that adults pass on the illness to babies who are too young to have received the necessary vaccinations.”

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Dr Van Buynder said in the very young, whooping cough was a severe disease that had been associated with childhood deaths.

“It’s important that parents are aware that until their babies are old enough to have received their full infant pertussis vaccination course at 6 months of age, the risk of becoming infected is high,” he said.

“Many people are unaware that immunity acquired through childhood vaccination or natural infection with whooping cough weakens over time, which means that without a booster vaccination adults can catch the disease in later life.

“It is not always apparent when an adult has whooping cough because they do not always display the distinctive ‘whoop’ cough.

“An infected person therefore may not know that they have the illness, and may pass the infection on to young babies.

“It’s a good idea for all household members who are in close contact with newborns to consider a booster vaccine to reduce the risk of infants contracting whooping cough.”

New guidelines from Australia’s peak body, the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC), recommend pertussis booster immunisation for adults planning a pregnancy, new parents as soon as possible after the deliver of an infant, other adult household members, grandparents, carers and all healthcare workers.

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