This year three babies have died from whooping cough – also known as pertussis or the hundred-day cough – in what health officials have described as a “tragic start” to a possible epidemic.
The three deaths have prompted Te Whatu Ora to set up an expert taskforce to investigate. It is working with ESR to sequence the strain to see if it is unusually deadly.
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that can affect anyone, adults included, but it’s particularly bad for babies, said Dr Sue Crengle, Senior Māori Health Researcher at The University of Otago.
“For babies, because their lungs are so small, they really get into trouble with being able to breathe.”
Te Whatu Ora’s Dr William Rainger said it doesn’t appear to be an outbreak yet. He said there are good pertussis testing levels, with only 11 positive results so far, and low levels of the illness overseas.
“I guess our fear is there may be pockets where there may be [undetected] pertussis circulating,” Dr Rainger said.
The chief medical officer for Te Aka Whai Ora, Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen, said immunisation rates are very low and they need to be raised quickly – something Māori health providers learned how to do during Covid-19.
“They had extended hours clinics, they had weekend clinics, mobile clinics, all of those things. So I am actively working on that now because I think that needs to be part of our response,” he said.
Whooping Cough Epidemic w Helen Petousis-Harris – 95bFM
Dr Owen Sinclair | Māori paediatrician and National Immunisation Taskforce chairman – Waatea News
Health officials seek to urgently sequence deadly whooping cough strain – RNZ
Māori providers to gear up for whooping cough – Waatea News
Dr Sue Crengle | Senior Māori Health Researcher at The University of Otago – Waatea News
Third baby dies from whooping cough – Morning Report, RNZ
Third baby dies from whooping cough as vaccination rates drop – Checkpoint, RNZ
Fears of undetected spread after third baby dies of whooping cough – RNZ
Third baby dies from whooping cough, concerns that disease is spreading undetected – NZ Herald