Officials worry about back-to-school time as Alberta whooping cough cases top 500
Alberta Health Services (AHS) says an outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) near Lethbridge is showing no signs of slowing down despite the fact kids have been out of school for more than a month.
“We had hoped to see the spread of this outbreak slow during the summer months, but that hasn’t happened,” said Dr. Karin Goodison, Alberta Health Services’ medical officer of health.
“We’re seeing more and more cases with each passing week.”
Goodison says health officials are now concerned about a further increase in activity when children return to classes this fall.
So far this year, there have been 501 cases of whooping cough province-wide, more than 100 of those cases have been reported within the last two weeks.
Most of the disease’s activity is centred around an outbreak near Lethbridge, but the province is also seeing a higher than usual number of cases in central Alberta.
“We’re currently reviewing some of our strategies related to the spread of this disease, but in the meantime, we continue to ask people to make sure their vaccinations are up to date,” Goodison said.
AHS is also asking anyone who may have been around someone with whooping cough to call Health Link (811) as soon as they begin experiencing cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, cough or a low-grade fever. Anyone with a persistent cough should also call Health Link and be tested for whooping cough.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection which can be very serious for young children.
In infants, the illness can be fatal. In 2012, a southern Alberta infant died from complications of whooping cough. Harper Whitehead was just a month old and too young to be vaccinated against the disease.
Whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics but Dr. Suttorp warns that in order to be effective, antibiotics must be administered early in the course of the disease.
According to AHS, immunization is the best protection against whooping cough. The vaccine is part of Alberta’s routine childhood immunization schedule.
Doses of the dTAP vaccine — which delivers protection against diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio — is recommended for all children at age two months, four months, six months, 18 months, between four and six years and again in Grade 9.
Adults are urged to get a booster at some point and it’s recommended pregnant women get the vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy.
The vaccine is covered by Alberta Health and can be accessed through community health centres or public health offices.
Symptoms of whooping cough are initially similar to a cold and include runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough. The cough progresses over the course of about a week to something more severe and can be followed with what sounds like a whooping noise when inhaling. The cough may last for two months or more. Vomiting after a coughing spell is also common.
Anyone who suspects they or a family member may be sick with whooping cough should stay at home and call Health Link before seeking medical care.
Whooping cough is typically treated with antibiotics.
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