Third baby dies of whooping cough

A third baby has died of whooping cough and there are concerns the disease is spreading undetected in New Zealand.

Te Whatu Ora said all three babies who died from the disease were under a year old. The latest death was unrelated to two previous two cases reported in February.

Dr. William Rainger, clinical chief of the National Public Health Service, said 11 cases of whooping cough have been reported in New Zealand so far.

“The ratio of fatalities to cases identified is much higher than in previous years, suggesting there may be an undetected spread in the community,” he said.

Typically, one to two in 100 babies under one year old who are hospitalized with whooping cough die.

The number of reported cases remained low, but the deaths were an “urgent reminder” that whooping cough was a serious illness, Rainger said.

“Parents should seek medical advice for their baby or young child if they have a cough that ends with a ‘whoop’ sound or vomiting.”

“The best protection is to ensure that pregnant people, babies and those who spend time with babies are all immunized.”

Immunization rates fell sharply during the Covid pandemic in New Zealand and have yet to recover.

In December, 82.4 percent of 24-month-olds were up to date on their vaccinations — well below the 95 percent required for herd immunity. Among Māori children, this was 66.4 percent.

Whooping cough immunizations are routinely given to pregnant people at 16 weeks, and babies are immunized at six weeks, three months, and five months. Boosters are given at 4 years and 11 years. The injections are free for young people under the age of 18, pregnant people, high-risk patients and adults between 45 and 65 years old.

Whooping cough, also known as whooping cough, is transmitted by coughing and sneezing and contagious people can pass it on as early as a week before symptoms begin.

The first symptoms are a runny nose, cough and fever. After a week to 10 days, the cough becomes more intense and may end with a “cry”, dry retching or vomiting.

If diagnosed early, antibiotic treatment can shorten the infection period to two to five days. Untreated, patients can be contagious for up to three weeks.

Te Whatu Ora said with the school holidays and Easter long weekend just around the corner, people who are not feeling well should avoid visiting young babies. Anyone living with a baby who has a new or worsening cough, sneeze, runny nose or fever should self-isolate if possible.

Immunization is available from medical centers, Hauora and Pacific health care providers, and some pharmacies.