Ballarat whooping cough cases fall

CASES of whooping cough in the Ballarat and Grampians region have more than halved since this time last year, according to the Ballarat and District Division of General Practice.But Nursing in General Practice program co-ordinator Jo Millard said the figures were still indicative of a prevalent problem.This year to date, Ballarat has recorded 22 cases of whooping cough compared to 45 cases this time last year.But in May 2008, there were only three notifications of the contagious disease."We've seen a lot more cases in the last two years in Victoria," Ms Millard said."Three years ago it was hardly seen or heard of in the area. It certainly hasn't gone away."The symptoms of whooping cough are similar to a common cold but can progress to severe bouts of coughing, which can last for a few months.The illness is particularly dangerous in infants under one with one in every 200 infants dying as a result.Adults over 50 and parents of newborns are also at risk and are encouraged to get vaccinated.In last week's state budget, the government invested an additional $3.2 million to provide an extra 72,000 free vaccinations for Victorian families.But Ms Millard said in the last 18 months, immunisation rates had dropped in the Ballarat and Grampians region - one reason the illness is still of large concern.Bram Alexander of the Department of Health said the whooping cough vaccine made sense."What happens is young children under six months of age may not be fully protected and if their parents contract Pertussis (whooping cough) they can pass it on to the child," Mr Alexander said. In 2009, there were 3711 cases of whooping cough in Victoria. So far there have been 1174 notifications.Mr Alexander said there was no way of speculating whether the figures would reach that of last year by the end of 2010.* Whooping cough vaccinations are available at your local general practice or local council.