13 November 2009

After 34 reported cases of whooping cough in Taranaki this year, Taranaki DHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Richard Hoskins is asking the community to be aware of the possible signs. There were only 2 reported cases all of last year with 16 cases reported in the last 3 months.

“Whooping cough (or pertussis) is a highly contagious illness that is caused by bacteria.  It can affect babies, children and adults, but it can be very serious and even life threatening in babies under 12 months of age.”

Dr Hoskins said. “It usually starts like a cold, with a runny nose and sneezing, and then the characteristic cough develops.  These coughing bouts can be very severe and frightening, and may end with a crowing noise (the whoop), vomiting or a period with no breathing.”
Treatment is usually a course of antibiotics which can also reduce the time a person is infectious to others.  Antibiotics need to be given within 21 days of the start of general symptoms or within 14 days of the start of the cough.

“A person with whooping cough should stay away from work, school and child care until they have had five days of a seven-day course of antibiotics, or until 14 days after the start of the coughing, which ever comes first,” said Dr Hoskins.

Immunisation for whooping cough is part of the New Zealand immunization programme and greatly reduces the chance of becoming infected, although babies need the full course to develop immunity so those under one year, and particularly those under six months, are at highest risk. Dr Hoskins urges all parents to make sure that their children are fully immunised and if not to see their health practitioner about completing the course of vaccinations. The vaccine is recommended and provided free for all babies at 6 weeks, 3 and 5 months of age with a booster at 4 years of age.

As protection from the whooping cough vaccination gradually reduces over time, a booster dose, which comes combined with diphtheria and tetanus vaccine, is now provided to children at 11 years of age. It is also recommended that older adolescence and adults, particularly those who have contact with very small children such as new parents, child-care workers and health care workers, also have the whooping cough booster.

For further information on whooping cough or whooping cough vaccination please contact your doctor or Health Line 0800 611 116.


Fact Sheet

How is whooping cough spread?
The bacteria is spread by an infected person coughing or sneezing.  Direct contact with infected secretions from the mouth and nose can also pass on the infection.
How long does it take to show symptoms (get ill) after being in contact with an infectious person with whooping cough?
After exposure to the bacteria, it usually takes nine to ten days to become ill.
How long will it last?
The coughing may last from a few weeks to 2-3 months.
How likely are you to be affected?
Whooping cough mainly occurs in childhood but cases can occur in all age groups. One attack of the disease usually produces long-term immunity, though second attacks in the same individual have occurred.
 How long is whooping cough infectious?
A person is highly infectious from the start of symptoms and for the first two weeks of their cough. 
How is it diagnosed?
If a doctor thinks that someone has whooping cough, a swab from the back of the nose is the most reliable test.
Do people who come in contact with whooping cough require treatment?
No, not all people need treatment.  However, because infants are at a higher risk of severe complications if they develop whooping cough, a course of antibiotics may be recommended for the following people in the same house as a person with whooping cough:

  • Any baby less than 12 months of age regardless of their vaccination status
  • Any child between 12-24 months of age who has received less than three doses of a whooping cough vaccine
  • Any woman in the last month of pregnancy
  • Any child or adult who attends or works in a childcare centre.

Household contacts, who have received less than three doses of whooping cough vaccine, should be excluded from child care centres until they have taken five days of the course of antibiotics or 14 days after the last exposure to infection.


For more information please call
Sue Carrington
Media Adviser
Ph. 021 367 789

Last updated: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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