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Whooping Cough Reports Continue to Rise

AS reports of whooping cough continue to rise, and a potential measles epidemic draws near, Health officials are reminding parents of the benefits of immunisation.

Ministry of Health Director Public Health, Dr Lynne Lane says the growing number of reports of whooping cough confirm that immunisation levels are still too low to prevent epidemics of vaccine preventable disease.

"This is a concern, particularly as history suggests a measles outbreak is likely to strike New Zealand anytime within the next four years."

"If we are to reduce the impact of this outbreak, immunisation levels must increase."

A whooping cough epidemic has continued since May last year. To date there have been more than 1800 cases of whooping cough reported. Current figures show there were 252 cases of whooping cough in March 2000, compared to seven for the same time last year. The highest number of cases have been in Canterbury, Southland, Nelson/Marlborough and north-west Auckland. Nelson/Marlborough was the only district reporting an increase on February figures.

Historically, measles epidemics have occurred in 1985, 1991 and 1997. In 1997 a total of 2,169 cases of measles were reported, a huge improvement on the 1991 epidemic which resulted in 10,000 cases being reported. However, Dr Lane says there is no room for complacency.

"These vaccine-preventable diseases can cause secondary infections such as pneumonia and even death in young children.

"Immunisation is free for children up to the age of 16, and is an effective way of protecting the health of your child. It may not give total protection, but immunised children tend to suffer from a milder illness."

Dr Lane says it is important that children complete the full immunisation programme to ensure adequate protection.

"For example with whooping cough, at least two doses of vaccine are needed."

Immunisation can provide protection against nine vaccine-preventable disease including measles, mumps, rubella, polio, pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, tetanus, haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) and Hepatitis B.

END

For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2483 or 025-277-5411 Internet address: http://www.moh.govt.nz/media.html

Background Information

During the month of March, 2000 Nelson/Marlborough was the only district reporting an increase on February figures increasing from 40 to 75. Canterbury recorded 71 cases in March, there were 20 cases in Central Auckland, 18 in north-west Auckland and 11 in South Auckland. In Wellington only six cases were notified. Last year 1046 cases of whooping cough were reported, up from 153 in 1998.

The vaccine-preventable disease affects people of all ages and is characterised by long bouts of coughing , followed by a gasping sound like a 'whoop' and often vomiting. In young children, particularly those less than one year old, the disease can lead to hospitalisation, and occasionally death.

Seven cases of measles were reported last month, bringing to total for the year to 31 March 2000 to 24. It is up slightly on 1999 figures which show 20 cases were reported for the year to 31 March 1999. Last year 107 cases of measles were reported.

The symptoms of measles are fever, a rash lasting three or more days, conjunctivitis, sore eyes or coughs. A rash appears on the third to seventh day. The incubation period is 10 - 12 days. Any family member showing these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention.

Initiatives are in place to boost immunisation levels. The Health Funding Authority has a target in the Funding Agreement with the Minister of Health to achieve immunisation coverage for all ethnic groups in all locations for all vaccines of 95% by 2004.

Some systems are already in place such as the immunisation register in primary schools and early child care centres whereby parents enrolling new entrants in schools are asked to present an immunisation certificate which shows what vaccines their child has received. In the event of an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease, the registers help the school and Medical Officers of Health to quickly identify children at risk and take the appropriate action to control the spread of the disease.

In addition, a comprehensive strategy is being prepared to improve immunisation coverage, including provision of outreach services, increased immunisation benefits and incentives for GP's and catch-up programmes for children not fully immunised.

END

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