Principal failed to report whooping cough outbreak
A whooping cough cluster has broken out at a state school in an affluent pocket of Sydney's eastern suburbs, where there are worryingly low vaccination rates.
And it can be revealed the school's principal failed to report the outbreak to health authorities, who only became aware of it after they were contacted by The Daily Telegraph.
So far at least three students at Bronte Public School have fallen ill with the potentially deadly illness. These cases have been confirmed with laboratory testing and there are still a "number of suspected cases".
The NSW Department of Education said the school told parents about the issue on November 7. But it was only yesterday when The Daily Telegraph raised the issue with the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District that public health medicos were informed.
Bronte Public School claims it "urged concerned parents to seek medical advice".
Serious diseases that rapidly spread through the community, such as whooping cough, are supposed to be reported as soon as possible to public health authorities so they can ensure more children do not fall ill.
"The NSW Department of Education requires principals to notify the local public health unit of cases of pertussis (whooping cough). Bronte Public School has been reminded about this," an NSW Department of Education spokesman said on Tuesday night.
SES LHD public health unit director Professor Mark Ferson said it sent advice to be circulated to all parents, staff and stakeholders at the school late yesterday, once it finally found out about the outbreak.
"Whooping cough starts like a cold and progresses to bouts of coughing that can last for many weeks. It is spread when an infectious person coughs bacteria into the air, which can be inhaled by people nearby," Prof Ferson said.
Whooping cough vaccinations are recommended to women during pregnancy as well as multiple times in childhood. But in the southeastern Sydney area the percentage of children fully vaccinated at five years old is just 91.1 per cent.
"Whooping cough outbreaks occur even in highly vaccinated communities, as neither infection nor vaccination provide lasting immunity," Prof Ferson said.
AMA NSW president Dr Kean-Seng Lim said 95 per cent vaccination coverage is needed to stop the spread of whooping cough.
"There's been an improvement overall in vaccination rates but we should not be complacent," he said.
And Dr Lim said affluent areas, such as Bronte, are increasingly struggling to maintain high vaccination rates.
"There is a paradox in that generally speaking, the more affluent the area the higher the odds of a lower immunity rate, that is because greater exposure to disinformation about immunisation," he said.