Whooping cough outbreak labeled region's worst

A SMALL baby from Barkers Vale, north of Nimbin, was last night clinging to life at the Brisbane Royal Children's Hospital after contracting whooping cough in what health officials are describing as the region's worst outbreak.

It is understood three-month-old Melody Joy Kleidon has had the illness for several weeks and was transferred from The Tweed Hospital to the Royal Children's intensive care unit about a week ago.

Melody's father, who did not wish to be named, described his daughter's condition as 'touch and go'.

She appeared to have improved slightly yesterday, but he said it was too early to say how she would pull through.

Staff at the hospital yesterday afternoon classified Melody as being in a 'serious but stable' condition.

Melody's struggle with the potentially fatal illness comes as health officials blame low immunisation rates for a whooping cough outbreak four times worse than any previously recorded on the North Coast.

Of 500 cases reported in the outbreak, 89 were in children aged younger than four, North Coast Public Health director Paul Corben said. Of the children who fell ill, 53 were not vaccinated.

Melody's father said other parents needed to know about the seriousness of the disease.

“We didn't know how bad it was,” he said. “We didn't realise it could be so serious.”

Melody's father said he and his partner decided against vaccinating their daughter because they believed it was no guarantee against contracting whooping cough.

The father said he believed his daughter contracted the illness after coming in contact with infectious non-vaccinated children in public places.

“When people know their child has whooping cough, they should not take them out in public,” he said.

Mr Corben said whooping cough was a serious disease in young children and the outbreak was centred in areas were vaccination levels were lowest - Murwillumbah, Byron Bay and Lismore.

“We have been tracking the spread of the disease and it's a bit like watching a bushfire burn,” he said.

Mr Corben said the outbreak was so severe some parents had changed their mind about vaccination.

He said there had been two deaths in Northern NSW from the illness since 1993.

Barkers Vale mother of two Tina Dvorak's daughters, Gypsy, 5, and Sharla, 2, both contracted whooping cough in July. Neither was immunised.

Ms Dvorak said parents of infected children in her area had failed to grasp the need to keep their child isolated while they were infectious.

Ms Dvorak said she felt more should have been done to warn people about the outbreak.

“I had no idea there was a whooping cough outbreak on,” she said. “I didn't know anyone with it when my daughter got it, then suddenly there were lots with it.”

Mr Corben said North Coast Area Health had worked with schools and the media to warn the community.

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