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Whooping cough outbreak declared in portions of southern Alberta, including Lethbridge

WATCH ABOVE: AHS has declared an official pertussis outbreak in the South Zone which includes Lethbridge, Lethbridge County and Raymond. The outbreak has led to Chinook Regional Hospital restricting visitation to protect small children from the disease. As Emily Olsen reports, the announcement is causing one local mother to relive her worst nightmare.

After 15 cases of whooping cough were confirmed in southern Alberta in the last two weeks, Alberta Health Services has declared an outbreak for a portion of the AHS South Zone.

Lethbridge, Lethbridge County and Raymond are included in the outbreak.

Whooping cough — also known by its clinical name pertussis — is a bacterial infection that may last for weeks. It can affect people of any age, but children one year of age and younger are are at the greatest risk of complications including pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and even death.

READ MORE: 11 new cases of whooping cough confirmed in south zone: Alberta Health Services

AHS has put visitor restrictions in place on the neonatal intensive care unit at the Chinook Regional Hospital. Anyone under the age of 16 will not be allowed and there will only be two visitors allowed at any time.

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Anyone who has symptoms — including a cough or runny nose — are reminded not to visit while they are sick.

“Immunization is the best method to protect against and limit the spread of pertussis,” AHS said in a Wednesday news release. “All residents in AHS South Zone are encouraged to ensure that they, and their children, are up-to-date on their immunizations.”

11 new cases of whooping cough confirmed in south zone: Alberta Health Services
11 new cases of whooping cough confirmed in south zone: Alberta Health Services

Anyone who isn’t sure of their or their child’s immunization history can contact Health Link at 811 or their local health centre.

READ MORE: ‘We’re endangering people’: N.B. minister pushes for mandatory vaccinations amid disease outbreak

Albertan children are given the vaccine as part of Alberta’s Routine Childhood Immunization schedule. Pregnant women are also offered a vaccine that contains pertussis in their third trimester. Any adult over the age of 18 is encouraged to receive one dose of the adult pertussis-containing vaccine.

READ MORE: Vaccine for pregnant women to prevent whooping cough in infants now free in Alberta

“Regardless of age, everyone is reminded not to share water bottles, lipstick, lip balm or drinks,” AHS said.

According to AHS, whooping cough typically starts with a runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough. Over about a week, the cough will become more severe with repetitive coughing spells. In younger children, that cough is usually followed by a whooping noise when inhaling.

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READ MORE: Unvaccinated: A former vaccination skeptic warns of online misinformation

Older children and adults may experience milder symptoms such as a prolonged cough or whooping sound. AHS advised that, regardless of age, the cough may last two months or longer.

“People who suspect they, or a family member, may be sick with pertussis should stay at home and call a family physician or Health Link 811 before seeking medical care,” AHS said.

“Individuals with a confirmed case of pertussis should stay home from work, school or childcare until five days of antibiotics have been completed.”

So far this year there have been 42 confirmed cases of whooping cough this year. In 2018, there were 58 confirmed cases.