Medicine shortage as whooping cough cases soar

Public health alert: Whooping cough

Source: Sunshine Coast Health

In April last year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration warned of a critical shortage of antibiotics for the treatment of whooping cough.

In November, respiratory disease experts warned of a looming whooping cough epidemic. Cases of the disease – potentially lethal in babies under the age of six months – were already on the rise.

Now these two issues have collided, with thousands of cases recorded – and families reportedly visiting up to 10 pharmacies in a day, trying to get prescriptions filled.

In the first five months of the year more than 7000 cases have been recorded. Most of these – 85 per cent – are in Queensland and NSW.

Usually, a few hundred cases per year are recorded.

Europe, the UK, parts of the US and Asia are all reporting a surge in whooping cough cases – up to 10 times as many reported in Europe than in each of the previous two years.

Most babies become infected when exposed to adults whose whooping cough immunity from a childhood vaccination has waned.

People aren’t being recalcitrant. They’re simply unaware that they need to get a booster every 10 years.

The spike is thought to be due to immuno-deficiencies developed during COVID lockdowns.

The bacterial infection that causes whooping cough is reportedly more contagious than influenza and Covid-19.

What is whooping cough?

According to the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne:

Whooping cough is a respiratory infection of the lungs that causes coughing. The coughing can occur in long spells, and often ends with a high-pitched ‘whoop’ sound when the child breathes in.

It is life-threatening to children under the age of six months, when they are too young to be fully immunised.

The disease is also known as pertussis, because it’s caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis.

Whooping cough is extremely contagious. It is particularly serious in babies under six months of age, who are at risk of severe complications and will usually need to be admitted to hospital.

Whooping cough is spread easily by droplets of fluid in the air from coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread by hands that have come in contact with the bacteria.

If your child has whooping cough, they will be infectious just before the start of the cough until three weeks after the cough started. If your child is given antibiotics, they can still spread the infection until they have had five days of antibiotics.

Because whooping cough is easily spread, often other family members or close contacts of the child with whooping cough will also have the infection.

 Signs and symptoms of whooping cough

Whooping cough usually starts with cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose and dry cough, which last for about one week.

After that, a more definite cough develops, which may last for 10 weeks or more.

Some children cough so much they vomit afterwards.

Children are usually well between coughing spells.

Babies under six months of age may have pauses in breathing, or apnoeas, instead of a cough.

In more severe cases, babies and children may have problems catching their breath after a coughing spell.

Caring for a sick child

In most cases, children with whooping cough can be cared for at home after they have been seen by a doctor.

Give your child small, frequent meals and fluids often (such as sips of water or smaller feeds, but more often).

Taking care of a child with whooping cough can be stressful. Ask for help from family and friends so that you can catch up with sleep.

The antibiotic usually prescribed for whooping cough is Azithromycin. It’s used to treat infections including chest infections such as pneumonia, and ear, nose and throat infections such as sinus infections.

At the moment, it remains in critically short supply. Alternatives are available.

For more information, see here.

Topics: Health
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