A few children in Central Alberta deserve an extra toy under the tree this Christmas for battling the flu and whooping cough at the same time this season.
Alberta Health Services Central Zone declared a whooping cough outbreak on Dec. 4. The annual influenza season began about mid-November.
Dr. Digby Horne, medical officer of health for Central Zone, said since Dec. 4 the zone has seen nine more confirmed cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, to bring the total for the year up to 116 cases.
“We haven’t seen the end of the outbreak and probably won’t until at least a few more weeks or maybe months,” Horne said on Thursday.
Caused by a bacterial infection, pertussis causes severe coughing that lasts for two to four weeks.
Infants six months of age and younger are at greatest risk for serious complications that include pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.
Whooping cough is highly transmittable and 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.
Seven cases have required hospitalization as of Dec. 4, with no new hospitalizations since.
Cases have been concentrated in the central and western parts of the zone. No deaths related to whooping cough have occurred.
Last year, the zone saw 98 cases.
AHS says immunization can safely prevent the disease and recommends adults in contact with infants be immunized, along with pregnant women at 26 weeks gestation or later, and infants and pre-school-aged children who are not up-to-date on immunizations.
People can contact public health for immunization. Their doctor may also provide immunizations.
Central Alberta has also seen a recent jump in the number of confirmed flu cases.
As of Dec. 13, there were 138 cases ,according to statistics released on Thursday.
Cases have more than doubled since Dec. 6 when there were 61 cases confirmed.
This year, the influenza A strain H3N2 is the dominant strain making people ill. While the flu vaccine did include H3N2, the strain that is circulating is only a partial match.
Horne said the effectiveness of H3N2 in the vaccine is not yet known.
“Nonetheless, even if the vaccine efficacy is reduced compared to what it would ideally be, there’s still likely benefit from being immunized because there will be some residual cross protection and symptoms may not be as severe if you’re immunized.”
He said AHS still recommends people be immunized. It’s not too late.
The number of people admitted to hospital with the flu in Central Zone has also increased to eight from three. No deaths have been reported.
So far the province has had 1,471 confirmed flu cases that put 260 people in hospital and 10 have died.
Weekly influenza statistics from Alberta Health Services won’t be available again until the New Year on Jan. 8.
So far, 106,829 Central Albertans have been immunized by AHS, pharmacists and doctors.
Across Alberta, 1.1 million have been immunized.
For information on immunization, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca.