Ten Illawarra childcare centres, preschools and schools have notified the region’s public health unit of children with whooping cough, including one northern suburbs school with 13 confirmed cases.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District public health unit director Curtis Gregory said the spike in cases of whooping cough, or pertussis disease, had occurred since students had returned from the Easter break.
"We are currently seeing the biggest spike in cases in northern Wollongong, however it changes all the time with numbers fluctuating across the district," Mr Gregory said.
"Under the national immunisation program, whooping cough vaccination is given to children at six weeks, four months and six months, with boosters at four and twelve-years-old.
"So children are going through primary school relying on the booster at four years, which is usually enough.
"However we are seeing more cases of kids who are fully vaccinated getting whooping cough so maybe the strains are changing a bit or the vaccine may be wearing a bit thin."
Regional figures on whooping cough notifications are not available, however there were 2689 reported cases statewide in the first five months of 2015, compared with 739 during the same period in 2014.
Mr Gregory said it was important to note that while children who were vaccinated could still contract the disease, they had less severe cases and recovered far quicker.
He urged people to keep their childrens’ vaccinations up to date, and for adults in contact with small children to get a booster.
"There are pockets of the community which are under-vaccinated and we are also working to improve vaccination rates in these communities," he said.
Childcare and preschool operators and the regional offices of the NSW Department of Education and Catholic Education Office are working with the health unit to provide parents with information and advice.
Catholic Education Office media spokesman Tim Gilmour said a number of alerts had been sent to parents at St Columbkille’s Catholic Parish Primary School in Corrimal, where 13 cases had emerged since the end of March.
"At St Columbkille’s, 19 children have been tested and 13 have come back positive for whooping cough - including three in the same family," Mr Gilmour said.
"We’re working closely with public health to ensure communication and advice is regularly given to parents.
"We require a doctor’s clearance before a child returns to school to ensure there’s no risk of further infection."
Mr Gilmour said parents were reminded to utilise the national immunisation program.
"However immunity fades over time and while boosters are given in Year 7, some would argue that given an increase in numbers the health department might look at the timing of the booster program,’’ he said.
A NSW Ministry of Health spokesperson said outbreaks of whooping cough tended to occur every three to four years, with the last peak in NSW in 2011-12.
"Whooping cough notifications in NSW have been increasing since mid 2014,’’ the spokesperson said.
‘‘There were 177 reported cases in January 2014, increasing to 525 in December 2014 mainly across the 0 to 14 year age group.’’
Vaccination rates were improving among infants and children in NSW, with over 93 per cent of children reported as fully vaccinated by age five.
"Whooping cough outbreaks continue to occur as neither infection nor vaccination provide long lasting immunity,’’ the spokesperson said.
"The main focus of whooping cough control is to prevent infection in infants who are too young to be vaccinated and are most likely to suffer severe disease if infected."