Whooping cough terror for mum

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RECOVERING: Melissa-Lee Toko was in hospital for weeks with her son, Rawiri-Dallas, after he fell ill with whooping cough. Photo Louis Klaassen D6308-21

A MUM and her eight-week-old baby who spent three weeks in hospital with whooping cough are among six people hospitalised with the illness in Whakatane.

Melissa-Lee Toko, of Kawerau, told the Beacon she watched her baby son turn grey and stop breathing for an estimated two-and-a-half minutes while she and her father rushed him to a doctor during his first serious coughing bout from the illness.

She is now urging pregnant mums to vaccinate against the illness as the region feels the first impact of the whooping cough epidemic that is sweeping the country.

The Bay of Plenty has recorded 86 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, since January, and of these 26 have been in the Eastern Bay.

The six hospitalisations have all been babies, said Bay of Plenty District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Neil de Wet.

Ms Toko said her baby, Rawiri-Dallas , received his six-week vaccination against whooping cough, but it was too late as he had already contracted the illness, although they didn’t realise that yet.

A week later he was breastfeeding and she thought he had choked, but realised afterwards it was a coughing bout.

“He went grey and I told my dad, ‘here, you take him’ and we shot to the GP in Kawerau.

“My dad was doing everything to get him to breathe. I had learned CPR and I told my dad he has three minutes to start breathing …”

Ms Toko said her father was doing CPR on Rawiri-Dallas in the car, but it was only when a nurse had him at the doctor’s rooms and she heard her baby cough and start crying that she knew he was breathing again.

“That was the first sign of whooping cough,” she said of the incident.

Ms Toko and Rawiri-Dallas were admitted to Whakatane Hospital for the weekend, but went home the following week, during which his cough got worse.

“He was turning blue every time he coughed.”

A week later they were hospitalised, this time for 22 days, with both going on antibiotics as by then Ms Toko was also coughing.

Ms Toko said at the height of his illness her baby stopped breathing every hour.

Three weeks after leaving hospital, 14-week-old Rawiri-Dallas is still coughing as he slowly recovers.

“The nurses taught me how to cope with it.

“When he stops breathing I turn him on his puku with his chin on my hand and rub his back.”

She said the nurses also gave her all the information she needed to know about the illness and how it could be prevented.

“I didn’t know that mums could get vaccinated, the midwife never brought it up. She gave me brochures with the information in them, but I didn’t read them.”

Ms Toko said she would encourage pregnant mums to get vaccinated against whooping cough.

“Babies need to be immunised while still inside their mum then this can be prevented. You don’t want to wait until your baby turns blue and then panic …”

Not too late to immunise

WHOOPING cough, or pertussis, is a highly infectious and distressing illness caused by bacteria that are spread through the community by coughing and sneezing in the same way as colds and influenza.

Suzanne Thompson, the Eastern Bay Primary Health Alliance’s immunisation co-ordinator, said: “Immunising children against vaccine preventable diseases not only protects them, but also others in the community.

“It uses the body’s natural defence mechanism, the immune response, to build resistance to specific infections.

“To get the best possible protection, visit your doctor to have these free immunisations,” she said.

BOPDHB medical officer of health Dr Jim Miller said babies under one year were most at risk of serious complications from whooping cough.

“The most effective way to protect babies is for their mother to be immunised during pregnancy so that antibodies are passed on to the baby.

“These antibodies will help reduce the likelihood of the baby becoming ill.”

kathy.forsyth@whakatanebeacon.co.nz