Alberta Health Services says there have now been 266 cases of whooping cough in the province in 2017, with 92 cases now connected to an outbreak in the south zone.
An outbreak was originally declared on June 7 after 17 cases were detected in communities with low immunization rates.
“We are definitely seeing almost a doubling in cases every week right now,” AHS south zone medical officer of health Dr. Vivien Suttorp said Thursday. “With this number of cases and this rapid doubling of cases, we expect more out there. We’re going to be in this outbreak for several months.”
The outbreak was initially contained to the western part of the AHS south zone and was limited to the communities around Lethbridge, Coaldale and Fort Macleod. Cases have since have been detected across southern Alberta, including Medicine Hat.
Suttorp said the outbreak shifted beyond areas with low immunization rates within 10 days and officials are now seeing cases among people who’ve been partially and fully vaccinated. She said in 86 to 88 per cent of the cases, patients have not been immunized.
One child has also been hospitalized, but is not in life-threatening condition, Suttorp said.
“If you know that you or your child has been in contact with a case of whooping cough and you start to develop symptoms – runny nose or low-grade fever – seek medical treatment quickly,” she said. “There is an antibiotic but it only works if it’s given early on in the disease.”
No outbreaks have been declared in Alberta’s four other zones, but AHS says there have been 266 cases across Alberta so far this year, including 19 in Calgary, 29 in Edmonton and 90 in the province’s central zone, which includes Red Deer.
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 of complications from whooping cough.
Harper Whitehead was just a month old and too young to be vaccinated against 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 — are 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 at 811 before seeking medical care.