Whooping cough still percolating through Central Zone

Central Zone is still in the midst of a whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak — and it is the only Alberta health zone currently facing an outbreak.

Central Zone is still in the midst of a whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak — and it is the only Alberta health zone currently facing an outbreak.

“Pertussis continues to percolate along so there’s no indication that the outbreak is under control yet,” said Digby Horne, medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services Central Zone.

AHS South Zone had a pertussis outbreak last year but it has since been declared over.

As of Tuesday, Central Zone had 129 cases, up from 116 on Dec. 4.

So far in 2015, one case has been confirmed.

No update was available on the number of hospitalizations, but there were seven as of Dec. 4.

Caused by a bacterial infection, pertussis causes severe coughing that lasts for two to four weeks. Highly transmittable, it is spread by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. It’s hard to distinguish from the common cold before the noticeable cough appears a week or two after infection.

Horne said there’s been a large age range in cases, with teens passing it on to siblings and parents around the zone.

He said there aren’t any big clusters and there’s no way to know how long the outbreak will last.

“It seems to get into a hockey team or school and just keep popping up over a period of a couple of months.”

Pertussis hit Central Alberta in 2013 with 98 cases and it tends to have a one-or-two-year peak, he said.

In 2013, “it seemed to be concentrated in a few areas. What we saw (in 2014) is it seemed to spread and will probably continue for a few more months.”

Infants six months of age and younger are at greatest risk for serious complications, which include pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.

Horne wasn’t aware of any pertussis deaths.

AHS is focusing on immunizing pregnant women in the hope that the vaccine will be transferred across the placenta and provide infants with antibodies until they are immunized.

Babies are immunized at two, four and six months of age, so at about seven months they are protected, he said.

“When they’re less than two months or three months, and either haven’t been immunized or only had one dose, that’s when they get the most severe infection and they’re at the highest risk of complications.”

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