News and Notices

Whooping cough: School children at risk if not immunised

Dr Stephen Bridgman, Clinical Director Public Health with the Nelson Marlborough Public Health Service, urges parents to check their children’s immunisation status as they return to school and group activities.

“We are still managing a pertussis outbreak in the region, and while the number of notified cases has decreased from its peak of around 50 a week before Christmas to 10-20 cases a week currently, it is possible that cases might increase again with the start of the school year,” Dr Bridgman says.

“This outbreak is similar to that occurring during 2011-12, and we can expect that this current outbreak will follow a similar trend of continuing with a long ‘tail’ for several months of this year.

“Children, and especially infants, remain at much higher risk than normal from this highly-contagious, serious disease.

“If you are a parent who has previously declined immunisation for your children, please urgently reconsider your choice and protect your children from contracting this serious, potentially fatal disease.”


Outbreak update: The numbers

Between 28 October 2017 and 26 January 2018 there have been 266 cases of pertussis notified in the Nelson-Tasman and Marlborough regions. Of these:

  • the highest rates have occurred amongst infants and school-aged children
  • 15 cases have occurred in infants younger than 12 months
  • the most cases occurred in early December


Prevention: Immunisation info

Immunisation is free for:
  •  babies and infants at ages 6 weeks, 3 months, and 5 months
  •  older children aged 4 years and 11 years
  •  pregnant women between 28 – 38 weeks gestation

Immunisation is encouraged for:

  • pregnant women. If vaccinated between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy, a mother can pass her immunity on to the baby, helping protect them until they are old enough to be vaccinated themselves. Immunising against whooping cough during pregnancy protects about 90% of babies in their first few weeks of life.
  • parents and caregivers of children under one year-old, and for all members of a household where babies and infants live

Ministry of Health immunisation information

The 2017 Immunisation Handbook has information about pertussis immunisation benefits, vaccine ingredients, precautions, efficacy and adverse reactions:


Know the symptoms

Whooping cough is most infectious in the first two weeks. The symptoms usually appear around a week after infection and start just like a common cold – runny nose, sneezing, slight fever and a mild irritating cough. After a week or two, coughing fits (paroxysms) are the main symptom. A paroxysm is characterised by:

  •  a spasm of coughing which brings up thick phlegm
  •  a sharp intake of breath or ‘whoop’ sound after a cough (mainly in children, not babies or adults)
  •  vomiting after coughing, especially in infants and young children
  •  tiredness and redness in the face from the effort of coughing.

If you suspect you or your children has whooping cough, call your GP or Healthline first.

Whooping cough is very contagious, so please call your GP or Healthline (0800 611 116) first before going into the waiting room. In waiting rooms, help prevent spreading whooping cough to others by:

  •  using a face mask if you are coughing (ask reception for one if they are not available in the entranceway)
  •  catching a cough or a sneeze in a tissue and then disposing of this
  •  coughing or sneezing into the crook of your arm (inner elbow) if you don’t have a tissue
  •  washing hands frequently.