Queensland Health authorities say there has been a surge in the number of whooping cough cases in far north Queensland - according to health officials there have been 205 cases of the disease in the state's far north already this year, seven times higher than the same time last year and Dr. Steven Donohue at the Tropical Population Health Service is warning parents to have their children immunised.
Dr. Donohue says even for adults, particularly those who are new parents, a pertussis-containing booster with their tetanus shot is recommended in order to protect their young children - most at risk are children under six months who have not had their three pertussis-containing doses.
Queensland Health says there have been 2,445 cases of whooping cough reported in Queensland by June 14th - as against 379 cases of the H1N1 swine flu virus yet authorities continue to close schools and quarantine confirmed cases of swine flu.
The latest figures show the current whooping cough outbreak is the worst in three years and Queensland Health Deputy Director-General Dr. Aaron Groves says the increase in whooping cough is more than four times what would be expected based on previous years.
Australia-wide the number of whooping cough cases is the largest in at least four years, with the number of reported infections soaring to 13,817 in just six months and health authorities across the country are urging parents to ensure their children are immunised.
Whooping cough is a "notifiable disease" because it is highly contagious and there are concerns that as many parents believe as the illness was eradicated many years ago immunisation is unnecessary and this could lead to a widespread outbreak.
The immunisation rate for whooping cough in Australia has increased to at least 90% but the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in Queensland warns that the vaccination does not provide life-long immunity to the virus and while most victims are more than one year of age, young infants are at greatest risk until they can have at least two doses of the vaccine, because their mother's antibodies do not provide reliable protection.
In adults whooping cough can manifest as a persistent cough, without the "whoop" but they nevertheless remain contagious for three weeks without antibiotic treatment, putting susceptible infants at greater risk of contracting the virus.
Experts say though an adult may only be mildly ill, they can pass on the nasty virus to a vulnerable newborn and any adult or child with a chronic persistent cough should visit their doctor.
The whooping cough vaccine is free as part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule for children aged two, four and six months - booster vaccinations are offered at four years and between 12 and 17 years through state governments - the vaccine is part of the combined diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis shot (DTPa).