A whooping cough epidemic is hitting Porirua hard, with a fifth of the Wellington region’s reported cases coming from Porirua and Kapiti.
Since October, 109 people in Porirua and Kapiti have come down with the disease. There have been 527 cases regionwide.
The epidemic began in the West Coast last winter before spreading northwards, and is the worst to hit New Zealand since 2004. Nationwide there have been 1258 cases this year alone, compared to 198 in the first three months of 2011.
Antibiotics can cure the whooping cough, but only if started within three weeks of people getting the disease, says Regional Public Health medical officer of health Annette Nesdale.
After that antibiotics have no effect and symptoms may last for three months – whooping cough is also known as ‘‘the 100 day cough’’, Dr Nesdale says.
Vaccinations are the best prevention for whooping cough, Dr Nesdale says.
Children should get free vaccinations for whooping cough aged six weeks, three months, five months, then booster shots aged 4 and 11 years. Adults over 16 can get vaccinated but this costs.
Children are most vulnerable to the disease, especially babies under 12 months, but anybody can get it. Adults often bring the disease into homes after picking it up at work or school, she says.
The disease manifests mainly as a persistent cough, accompanied by watery eyes and shortness of breath.
‘‘It’s what we call paroxysms of coughing. It just doesn’t stop,’’ Dr Nesdale says. ‘‘It really can be quite unpleasant.’’
Anyone who has had the disease for less than three weeks should see a doctor for antibiotics, then keep isolated for five days, Dr Nesdale says. After three weeks the patient is no longer infectious.