Whooping cough outbreak ‘unabated’

A whooping cough outbreak has been declared in Central Alberta. Alberta Health Services Central Zone made the announcement on Thursday after a sustained increase in the number of cases. Caused by a bacterial infection, the illness causes severe coughing that lasts for two to four weeks. Infants six months of age and younger are at greatest risk for serious complications, which include pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.

A whooping cough outbreak has been declared in Central Alberta.

Alberta Health Services Central Zone made the announcement on Thursday after a sustained increase in the number of cases.

Caused by a bacterial infection, the illness causes severe coughing that lasts for two to four weeks. Infants six months of age and younger are at greatest risk for serious complications, which include pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.

So far this year, 107 cases have been confirmed, with spikes in late summer and October.

Cases have been concentrated in the central and western parts of the zone. Seven cases required hospitalization.

Dr. Digby Horne, medical officer of health for Central Zone, said the zone had 100 cases of whooping cough in 2013 and this year it continues “unabated and in more geographic locations than last year.”

“There are other cases throughout Alberta, but Central Zone seems to have the greatest rate of cases and it’s been persistent. South Zone did call an outbreak last year, but there’s no other zones that have declared an outbreak at this time,” Horne said on Thursday.

It’s the most cases in Central Alberta since 2004, when there was almost double the number, he said.

No deaths related to whooping cough have occurred in the zone this year.

“A lot of (those infected) are less than 15 years of age. But we’re getting cases in parents and older adults as well.”

He said there tends to be case clusters in families and schools as it 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.

“It will take a while to see whether the number of cases is decreasing so probably in two or three months we’ll know better what the trend overall is.”

AHS says immunization can safely prevent the disease and recommends adults in contact with infants be immunized.

“What’s happened recently is that there has been a dose recommended for adults that they should receive any time after they turn 18 years of age. The majority of adults have not received that dose.”

Adults over 18 receive a single dose to help protect them indefinitely.

He said recently immunization was recommended specifically for health-care workers and a couple of years ago, vaccination efforts began for parents of newborn infants.

Additional immunization appointments are now available free of charge for the following Central Zone residents:

• Infants and pre-school aged children who are not up-to-date on immunizations.

• Caregivers in close contact with infants such as parents, grandparents, nannies and child-care staff.

• Health-care workers.

• Women who are at least 26 weeks pregnant or more. AHS says immunizing women at or after 26 weeks of pregnancy is safe and increases protection for newborn infants by minimizing risk of infection in those around them, and giving them antibodies transferred during pregnancy.

In Alberta, pertussis immunizations are offered free of charge through Alberta’s routine childhood immunization program. A series of doses is recommended, at two, four, six and 18 months of age, at four and six years of age, and again in Grade 9.

Those uncertain of their child’s immunization history can consult their local community health centre.

Pregnant women, adult caregivers or those in close contact with infants may also be able to access immunization through their physicians. They should call ahead to confirm availability.

Anyone who suspects that they or a family member may be sick with whooping cough should stay at home and call a family physician or Health Link Alberta toll-free at 1-866-408-LINK(5465), before seeking medical care.

Those infected should stay home from work, school or childcare until five days of antibiotics have been completed.

Additional information about pertussis is available at http://immunizealberta.ca/i-need-know-more/common- questions/whooping-cough.

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