Alberta Health Service has declared an outbreak of whooping cough in the central part of the south zone, which includes Lethbridge. Recently, 16 cases of pertussis have been identified in the south zone, all locally acquired. Of these, three individuals required hospitalization.
Whooping cough (Pertussis) is a bacterial infection that causes severe and prolonged coughing that lasts for weeks. It can impact people of all ages, however, infants one year and younger are at greatest risk of serious complications, including pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.
“Vaccine preventable disease are still alive and well and they can come to a place near you,” said Dr. Vivien Suttorp, lead medical officer of health for the south zone. “With decreasing immunization rates, we are at increasing risk of having vaccine preventable disease outbreaks and these are serious diseases, especially for young children.”
AHS says communities spanning Lethbridge County, Fort Macleod, Coaldale, Taber, Vauxhall, Grassy Lake and Bow Island are impacted by the outbreak. Suttorp added cases of whooping cough are often under reported and it is likely there are many more cases than have been confirmed.
“These are communities with significantly low childhood immunization rates,” reads a news release from AHS. “By age two, children should have received four doses of pertussis vaccine and in some of these areas only one third of two-year-old children have.”
Whooping cough starts with a runny nose, sneezing, fever and mild cough. Usually over one week, the cough will become more severe with repetitive coughing spells. In younger children, these coughing spells are usually followed by a whooping sound when inhaling. Vomiting following a coughing spell is also common, according to AHS.
“Immunization is the best method to protect against and limit the spread of pertussis, along with regular hand washing and remembering not to share drinks, food, or cutlery,” AHS says. “In Alberta, it is free for all children less than 18 years of age, people who are in the third trimester of pregnancy (27 weeks), and adults who have not had a tetanus booster in the past 10 years.”
Officials remind residents to stay up to date on their immunizations and to stay home if they believe they have whooping cough. AHS says it is best to call a family physician or Health Link before seeking medical care.