Doctors in Alberta’s south zone are seeing more cases than usual of pertussis — more often known as whooping cough — this year, according to health officials.
So far in 2019, 38 cases have been confirmed in the region and with 11 new cases confirmed in Lethbridge, the County of Lethbridge and Raymond this week, Alberta Health Services (AHS) is reminding residents of the importance of immunization in hopes of avoiding an outbreak.
“This is a higher incident rate than we usually see,” said medical officer of health Dr. Vivien Suttorp.
“At this point, we don’t have a community outbreak yet. But, whooping cough is a common disease that we see in outbreaks.”
The AHS annual report states that from Apr. 1, 2017, to Mar. 31, 2018, 70 per cent of children up to two years old received immunizations for diseases including whooping cough in the south zone.
Suttorp said overall, that number isn’t particularly low compared to the provincial average, but added the south zone is also home to small pockets of non-immunized populations.
“Our overall immunization rates in children aren’t that much different than other zones,” she said.
“However, we have differences between communities and between schools. That’s why we have these outbreaks.”
WATCH BELOW: (April 2019) Ipsos poll: 9/10 Canadians want mandatory vaccinations
Suttorp said the spread of this disease is amplified in school grounds, where immunized and non-immunized children are often mingling together.
“If you have a lot of people who are immunized and everybody is randomly mixing with everybody else, you don’t see that same amount of spread,” she said.
“Eleven new confirmed cases in the same small local area of three communities around Lethbridge worries me — compared to having 11 cases in a large location where there’s higher immunization rates.
“Most of the times those outbreaks hit schools and then they travel around the schools.”
Provinces such as Ontario and New Brunswick have recently introduced mandatory vaccination legislation, which require students’ vaccinations to be up to date if they attend a public school, though parents can opt out on religious and conscientious grounds after attending an educational session.
The Alberta government said it doesn’t plan on implementing similar legislation. Instead, the new UCP government said the ultimate choice on health care for a child should fall on the parents.
In an emailed statement to Global News, the UCP said it “believes that vaccines are safe, effective and protect our children and communities from disease.”
“Alberta uses a collaborative approach that encourages conversations between parents and health professionals about the benefits of immunization, while still allowing parents to make decisions about their child’s health care,” the government said.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection that can cause severe coughing for several weeks.
Suttorp said the disease is highly contagious and a person can often be infected for many days or even weeks without knowing.
“The first symptoms of whooping cough is a sore throat, a bit of a runny nose, low-grade fever and mild cough — very much like a variety of respiratory illnesses that we have circulating,” she said. “Whooping cough, however, after about a week, the other symptoms go away but the cough persists.”
In 2017, the Alberta Health Services’ South Zone saw a whooping cough outbreak, with almost 500 confirmed cases.
AHS is asking anyone who believes they have been infected with whooping cough to stay home and contact a health care provider for further instructions.