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Outbreak prompts vaccine plea

North Coast parents are being urged to immunise their children against preventable diseases after a spike in cases of the potentially deadly whooping cough disease. Acting Director of Public Health, Greg Bell, said there had been 37 whooping cough notifications in the last week, more than double that of the previous week. “Anyone can contract whooping cough, it spreads easily by sneezing and coughing, and can be a life threatening infection for infants,” Mr Bell said. Public health units (PHUs) actively follow up all cases involving children under five years of age by attempting to contact parents by phone. For those cases involving patients older than five years, the PHU sends either an SMS or letter in an attempt to provide all cases with information relating to whooping cough in a timely manner. Mr Bell said the North Coast experienced a similar spike in whooping cough cases leading into winter last year. Persistent low vaccination levels in some parts of Northern NSW is worrying, according to Mr Bell, given that free vaccination is available to all parents. Whooping cough vaccination is valuable in preventing severe infection in infants and toddlers, and if unvaccinated children are infected they are at high risk of severe disease. “It must be remembered that prior to the NSW Government introducing free antenatal whooping cough vaccinations in 2015, four infants had died in the preceding six years,” Mr Bell said. “All pregnant women are urged to have the free whooping cough vaccine during their third trimester, preferably at 28 weeks, to provide optimal protection to their infants.”