Whooping cough, chicken pox outbreaks in schools

DOCTORS across the southwest are on alert as the region suffers its worst outbreak of whooping cough in recent history.

So far this year, the South West Hospital and Health Service has come across 21 cases of whooping cough (pertussis), up from zero cases in 2017 and only three by this time last year.

Chicken pox is also on the rise, with 26 confirmed cases of the varicella-zoster virus so far in 2019, compared to last year's 17, and 20 cases in the year prior.

Most of the outbreaks have been in schools around the southwest, and cases have been recorded in schools on the Darling Downs as well.

"Symptoms of whooping cough vary but typically start out like a cold with a runny nose with sneezing, tiredness and characteristic coughing bouts developing over several days," Darling Downs Public Health Unit acting director Dr Katie Panaretto said.

"In teens and adults, the infection may cause a persistent cough, but for babies and young children, whooping cough can be life-threatening."

In response to the outbreaks, doctors are urging parents to take every precaution in avoiding the spread of both viruses.

"If you or a family member have these symptoms, it's important to go to the GP or local health centre and be tested," Dr Panaretto said.

"Call ahead to explain you think you might have whooping cough and follow any infection control measures you're advised of.

"In the meantime, stay away from others, particularly babies who aren't protected until they have received three vaccinations at six months of age, and pregnant women.

"Chicken pox is spread through coughing, sneezing and direct contact with the fluid in the blisters of the rash, so people with chicken pox should stay away from others until all the blisters have scabbed, to prevent others being infected."

In response to the spike in both diseases, health authorities are reminding every resident to make sure their vaccinations are up to date.

The whooping cough vaccine is still offered through the National Immunisation Program, meaning pregnant women, and children of certain ages can get the jabs for free.

"Since this program was introduced to Australia, there has been a significant drop in severe disease and deaths from whooping cough," Dr Panaretto said.

Cases of the pertussis virus are seven times higher than last year.

Confirmed cases of whooping cough are seven times higher than last year, and chicken pox is also on the rise.

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