Parents in two Calgary Zone schools are being warned their child could have been exposed to pertussis, or whooping cough, after several cases have been confirmed.
In a letter to parents of children attending Foothills Composite High School, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said students and their families should watch for symptoms of the highly contagious disease, as “a number of cases” had been diagnosed.
Parents of children at Heritage Heights School were also sent a letter in early May notifying them of the potential risk.
Pertussus is an infection spread through the air by coughing or sneezing.
“People with pertussis may have coughing spells in which they cannot catch their breath between coughs,” AHS said. “As they catch their breath at the end of each coughing spell, they may loudly gasp (whoop) and vomit or feel like they are choking.”
There have been 13 cases of the infection confirmed in the Calgary Zone in 2017, according to AHS spokesperson Shannon Evans.
Five were sporadic, un-linked cases; eight were associated with Okotoks and spanned two schools and two different families.
Kathy Dulac, who said her children have been vaccinated, is glad the school sent out a notice, but said there’s not much parents can do without more details.
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“We don’t necessarily know which kid was diagnosed with whooping cough and what class they were in. So you can’t really take extra steps to protect your kids other than having them vaccinated when they were young,” she said.
Of the cases confirmed in Okotoks, five of those infected were completely unimunized, one was partially immunized, one was immunized and one had an unknown immunization history.
“It is not a perfect vaccine. It’s much better than we used to have,” said Dr. Judy MacDonald of AHS. “We may see some waning immunity before the 10 years is up between doses.”
What should you look for?
Symptoms can show up in an infected person up to 21 days after they were exposed, and include:
- Common cold symptoms that progress to severe coughing over one to two weeks
- A persistent cough that’s worse at night
- A cough possibly accompanied by a whooping sound when breathing in
- Coughing spells which may end in gagging or vomiting
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The best way to protect yourself against pertussis is to be vaccinated, according to AHS. The vaccine is available for infants, older children, teenagers and adults.
“Parents should make sure their children’s vaccines are up to date. Staff are eligible for a does as an adult, and if you’re worried about it, check to see your status with respect to immunization.”