Cough strikes city - but could it be something worse?

COUGH, cough, cough.

It's been a familiar sound in offices, nursing homes, schools and child care centres over the past month as Toowoomba residents battle illness.

But it's not influenza that has Dr Penny Hutchinson, director of the Darling Downs Public Health Unit, concerned.

Rather, it's an increase in the incidence of whooping cough and the thought that people could be mistaking the highly-contagious respiratory infection for a "cough that's going around."

"It can be difficult to tell the difference," Dr Hutchinson said.

"You'll get coughing for a prolonged period of time and then the 'whoop' big drawing of air. You'll be quite unwell with it."

There have been 17 notifications of whooping cough over the past month, a figure that "certainly is an increase."

Schools have not been immune.

While adults who have whooping cough feel very unwell, the greater concern for health professionals is what happens to babies who are infected.

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"It's potentially extremely dangerous for infants under six months," Dr Hutchinson said. "It can be fatal."

Because immunity against whooping cough wanes, even those who have been vaccinated can become infected.

When asked if people in Toowoomba could be going untreated because they believed vaccination many years ago meant they couldn't be infected or that they were ill with a more benign common cold, Dr Hutchinson said "they could well have".

Dr Hutchinson said people would eventually recover from what is sometimes called the '100-day cough' without antibiotics, but that it was essential those who were suffering from a persistent cough saw their GP to rule out pertussis.

"They need to get assessed and tested.

"We want to try to reduce the spread, particularly to babies," she said.

"They need to be isolated."

Dr Hutchinson said an increase in influenza cases over the past week was unremarkable given the time of year.

"We're going into the peak of the (flu) season.

"At the end of July we usually see an increase in cases and those decrease by the end of August or the start of September."

Clinical nurse Peter Vandeplassche at St Vincent's Private Hospital's paediatric and adolescent unit said staff in the department were treating a few children who were sick with the flu but that the numbers were in line with what was expected for this time of the year.
 



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