Alberta Health Services (AHS) says a whooping cough outbreak in southern Alberta has now impacted 38 people.
The outbreak was originally declared last week after 17 cases were detected in communities with low immunizaton rates.
“This outbreak is in the same area where we are seeing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases on a regular basis,” Dr. Vivien Suttorp, a medical officer of health for AHS South zone said in an interview on June 7.
READ MORE: Whooping cough outbreak declared across part of Southern Alberta
At the time, the outbreak had been contained to the western part of the AHS South zone and was limited to the communities around Lethbridge, Coaldale and Fort Macleod. This week, however, cases related to the outbreak have been detected across southern alberta, including three cases in Medicine Hat.
No outbreaks have been declared in Alberta’s four other zones but AHS says there have been 178 cases across Alberta so far this year, including 18 in Calgary, 27 in Edmonton and 77 in the province’s central zone, which includes Red Deer.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection which can be very serious for young children. In infants, the illness can be fatal.
In 2012, a southern Alberta infant died of complications from whooping cough. Harper Whitehead was just a month old and too young to be vaccinated against the disease. Whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics but Dr. Suttorp warns that to be effective, antibiotics must be administered early in the course of the disease.
According to AHS, immunization is the best protection against whooping cough. The vaccine is part of Alberta’s routine childhood immunization schedule. Doses of the DTaP vaccine — which delivers protection against diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio — are recommended for all children at age two months, four months, six months, 18 months, between four and six years and again in Grade 9.
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Adults are urged to get a booster at some point and it’s recommended pregnant women get the vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy. The vaccine is covered by Alberta Health and can be accessed through community health centres or public health offices.
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Symptoms of whooping cough are initially similar to a cold and include runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough. The cough progresses over the course of about a week to something more severe and can be followed with what sounds like a “whooping” noise when inhaling. The cough may last for two months or more. Vomiting after a coughing spell is also common.
Anyone who suspects they or a family member may be sick with whooping cough should stay at home and call health link at 811 before seeking medical care. Whooping cough is typically treated with antibiotics.