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Medical Health Aged Care

Whooping cough epidemic looms, warn experts

Immunisation Foundation of Australia 5 mins read

 

Infectious diseases experts are warning that Australia is “well overdue” for a whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak, with data suggesting a resurgence of the disease as early as this summer.

 

With epidemics of the highly contagious respiratory infection occurring every three to five years and the most recent Australian epidemic peaking in late 2015 (22,570 confirmed cases1), experts predict a major outbreak that threatens infants, children and adults alike.

 

The Immunisation Foundation of Australia (IFA) today launched the inaugural Whooping Cough Day to encourage all Australians to remain up to date with vaccination.

 

Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at University of Sydney, Professor Robert Booy said, “It’s only a matter of time before we see a resurgence of whooping cough, quite possibly in the Spring and Summer months when infections traditionally spike.”

 

“While respiratory infections such as influenza and RSV have recently risen to pre-pandemic levels, we haven’t yet seen this with whooping cough,” Professor Booy said.

 

“Whooping cough follows a fairly predictable pattern and it’s very much the sleeping bear of respiratory infectious disease right now.”

 

“We’ve seen years when whooping cough infections in Australia have neared 40,0001, so we must be alert to signs of a pending epidemic,” said Professor Booy.

 

IFA founder Catherine Hughes said the awareness campaign tackles an issue close to her heart. In 2015, Ms Hughes’ four-week-old son Riley died from whooping cough complications.

 

She says that despite subsequent improvements in the prevention of whooping cough in infants and pregnant women, “there is huge room for improvement when it comes to reducing the spread of whooping cough in the broader community”.

 

“Most people associate whooping cough with babies, but more than half of all cases are reported in adults,” Ms Hughes said.

 

“Whooping cough can be fatal in infants and can cause serious illness in older children and adults. This is particularly true for those with asthma who are at four times greater risk of infection and higher risk of being admitted to hospital.”

 

Known as the “100-day cough”, whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that attacks the airways, causing uncontrollable coughing and difficulty breathing. The coughing fits can be so severe that they cause vomiting, incontinence, broken ribs and hospitalisation.

 

Whooping cough is more contagious than influenza, measles or COVID-192 and, once infected, a person can remain contagious for three weeks or until they complete a course of antibiotics.3

 

As symptoms of whooping cough don’t appear immediately (often for a week or two following infection), the bacteria is easily spread. One infected person may unwittingly spread the disease to up to 17 unvaccinated people.2,4

 

With the disease most likely to spread during the warmer months, Professor Booy said “Australians should not only be alert to signs of infection, but also check their vaccination status”.

 

“People with an ongoing cough should practice social distancing and seek immediate medical advice,” Professor Booy said. “Increased levels of socialising and travel during the festive season facilitate the spread of airborne bacteria like whooping cough, so vigilance is required.” 

 

Ms Hughes says that while vaccination is the best defence against whooping cough, “it’s not a case of ‘set and forget’ as protection wanes over time”.

 

“Adults require a booster shot at least every 10 years to stay up to date with whooping cough protection,” she said.

 

"Research shows that more than 80 per cent of Australian adults cannot recall receiving a whooping cough booster.5 This confirms that many are oblivious to the need for a booster vaccine and will likely have minimal protection against whooping cough.”

 

“It’s easy to check your immunisation status against whooping cough and organise a booster, and it’s up to all of us to protect ourselves and our loved ones against whooping cough.”

 

Australians can check their vaccination status by talking to a doctor, pharmacist or by accessing their Immunisation History Statement via the Express Plus Medicare app.

 

Find out more about Whooping Cough at:  www.ifa.org.au/WhoopingCoughDay

 

#ENDS

 

 

Interview Opportunities

 

Catherine Hughes, Founder and Director of the Immunisation Foundation of Australia

Catherine is the founder of the Immunisation Foundation of Australia and Light For Riley, established after the death of her son Riley from whooping cough in 2015

 

Only days after Riley's death, Catherine and husband Greg successfully advocated for the introduction of free whooping cough vaccines for pregnant women, resulting in a sharp increase in awareness of the impact of whooping cough in babies and up to 90 percent of Australian pregnant women choosing to protect their babies during pregnancy.

 

In 2022, Catherine was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to immunisation.

 

Professor Robert Booy, Professor, Child & Adolescent Health, Sydney Medical School, The Children's Hospital at Westmead

Professor Booy is an infectious diseases paediatrician. Since 2005 he has worked at the University of Sydney in the fields of vaccinology, epidemiology and infectious diseases. He is currently a Senior Professorial Fellow at the University of Sydney Children's Hospital Westmead Clinical School. From 2005 to 2019 he held the position of Head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) at Westmead Children's Hospital and remains an Affiliate of NCIRS.

 

Mikey Hamer, Fremantle, Western Australia

Mikey was hospitalised with severe adult whooping cough at the age of 32 in 2018. Mikey describes his experience with whooping cough as a true “100-day cough”, with relentless and often alarming symptoms occurring over the course of just over three months.

 

References

  1. Australian Government Department of Health, National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS). Number of notifications of Pertussis by age group and sex
  2. Shaw CL. and Kennedy DA. Theor Popul Biol. What the reproductive number 0 can and cannot tell us about COVID-19 dynamics. 2021 Feb; 137: 2–9.
  3. New York State. Department of Health. Pertussis or Whooping Cough Fact Sheet. Available at: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2171/
  4. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Expert Consultation on Pertussis. Available at: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/expert-consultation-pertussis
  5. Immunisation Coalition Australia. Australians & Vaccination Survey. June 2021. Available at: https://www.immunisationcoalition.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2021_06_28_Enhancing-adult-vaccination-coverage-rates-in-Aus_FINAL.pdf

 


Key Facts:

Whooping cough is on the increase. So far in 2023 we’ve seen well over double the number of Australian cases seen in 2022 (1,182 cases at 6 November compared to only 481 cases in 2022). 

Experts say we are overdue for an epidemic. Epidemics of the highly contagious respiratory infection occur every three to five years, on average. The last Australian epidemic peaked eight years ago, in late 2015. 

In NSW – where cases are five times higher this year compared to last year – last week NSW Health issued an alert to GPs urging testing in those showing signs of the whooping cough. 

Our expert says: “Whooping cough follows a fairly predictable pattern and it’s very much the sleeping bear of respiratory infectious disease right now.” 


About us:

About the Immunisation Foundation of Australia

 

The Immunisation Foundation of Australia was established by the family of Riley Hughes, who have become vocal advocates of immunisation after the death of their son from whooping cough in 2015.  Believing in the importance of parents and community-members standing up to support immunisation, the foundation’s mission is to inspire further community-based immunisation advocacy, helping to protect babies and families from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The Immunisation Foundation of Australia envisions a world where families are no longer affected by the unnecessary suffering and death caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.  To help make this vision a reality, we are committed to creating a network of community-based immunisation champions, who share our common values of respect, integrity and evidence-based advocacy. 

 


Contact details:

Candice Hitchcock
chitchcock@ethicalstrategies.com.au
0466 586 758

John Morton
jmorton@ethicalstrategies.com.au
0416 184 044

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