Parents share their experiences of whooping cough
New Zealand is currently experiencing an outbreak of whooping cough with more than 6700 cases reported since the outbreak began in August last year.
Children under five years old are most affected, especially infants under one who are the most susceptible to catching whooping cough. More than half of the hospitalisations for whooping cough occur in babies under one.
Several parents have recently come forward to share their experience of whooping cough and what happened when their babies caught the disease.
Get yourself immunised to protect your baby
If there is one thing that Anna Gibson wants parents to think about it is immunising themselves against whooping cough.
Her daughter MacKenzie was just seven weeks old when she was admitted to hospital with pertussis.
“It was mentioned to us at our antenatal class but we didn’t really pay much attention as there were so many other things to think about.
“If we had known what was going to happen though, we would have definitely given it more thought and made sure we were immunised before Mackenzie was born.”
Mackenzie caught whooping cough from her dad and after several trips to the doctor, she ended up in hospital for 10 days.
“It was truly awful seeing Mackenzie so ill. She would cough and cough and cough until she was blue and not breathing. We felt so helpless as there wasn’t much we or the hospital staff could do but wait and comfort her.
“It’s definitely something we don’t want other parents to experience. We could possibly have prevented it if we had both arranged for a booster shot when she was first born. We were lucky though, as Mackenzie recovered and she has no lasting health problems.”
Twin girls’ illness highlights the importance of immunising on time
Spending time in hospital with their baby girl battling whooping cough wasn’t how Ramona and Peter Muliaga envisaged their honeymoon.
The couple were getting ready for their wedding day when Marliena-May, one of their twin girls, started to become unwell. They made it through the wedding but as the day progressed they became increasingly concerned about the eight-week old baby’s health.
By the next day they were so worried that they took Marliena-May to Christchurch Hospital, where she was diagnosed with whooping cough and admitted to a children’s ward.
Because she was so young she had only had one whooping cough vaccination (at six weeks old) and was struggling to fight the disease. It was to be four weeks before Marliena- May and Ramona could go home.
“It certainly wasn’t the honeymoon I’d been expecting ” Ramona says. “I was really scared. Marliena was very little and very sick. She was attached to oxygen for a lot of the time.”
Ramona slept by her baby’s bed but says she felt she could do nothing to really help her. “Her attacks would happen mostly during the night. She’d just be coughing and coughing and coughing until her face went purple. It was a real struggle for her to breathe,” Ramona says.
“The doctors would give her oxygen to help her breathe again. It was so scary. It was really hard to watch and I couldn’t do anything.”
At the same time as looking after Marliena-May, Ramona needed to spend time with her other baby Ayva-Rose. She says Peter looked after Ayva-Rose during the day but on some nights her sister-in-law would come to the hospital to be with Marliena-May, while she went home to spend time with Ayva-Rose and Peter.
When the twins were three months old, Marliena- May was discharged from hospital and the family enjoyed a month of good health before Ayva-Rose started coughing. Ramona recognized the familiar sound of whooping cough and immediately took the baby to her GP.
Ramona says she doesn’t know how Avya-Rose got sick. “It was such a long time after Marliena that we think it must have been from someone else with Whooping Cough.”
Unlike Marliena-May, Ayva Rose had received two vaccinations when she became ill. This, combined with the antibiotics, seems to have made a big difference to the way Ayva-Rose could fight the illness compared with her sister, Ramona says.
“The worst of it was over within about five days, she didn’t have to go to hospital and her coughing settled down quite quickly.”
At six months, the babies are now healthy and thriving. “I’m just so happy that they didn’t both get sick at the same time and that they have come through it OK,” Ramona says.
If there is one message the newlyweds hope other parents take heed of is to: “Get your babies immunised and take them to the doctor quickly if you think they have whooping cough.”
How common is whooping cough?
Whooping cough is common in New Zealand. We have an outbreak of the disease every three to five years. The most recent outbreak began in August 2011 and is still ongoing.
Since the outbreak began, more than 8,800 cases* of whooping cough have been reported.
During the epidemic in 2004–2005, more than 5000 cases were reported. In 2004, 159 children were hospitalised, and one child died.
*as at April 2013
More on whooping cough
For more stories and video from families whose children have had whooping cough, visit Whooping cough – babies’ fight for survival.