Whooping cough confirmed on the North Coast

Northern Health is advising residents of the North Coast to ensure they're vaccinated for pertussis, or whooping cough.

Northern Health is advising residents of the North Coast to ensure they’re vaccinated for pertussis, or whooping cough, after three cases have been confirmed in Prince Rupert and on Haida Gwaii.

Pertussis is a serious, contagious infection of the airways caused by pertussis bacteria. The infection starts like a cold, with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and a moderate cough. The cough becomes more severe over the next two weeks, leading to forceful, repeated coughing spells that often end with a whooping sound before the next breath.

Northern Health spokesperson Jonathon Dyck was unable to clarify how many of the infections are in Prince Rupert or where in Haida Gwaii there have been one or more confirmed cases and, because of patient confidentiality, the ages of those infected individuals cannot be released. Dyck did say the first confirmed case in the area was in Haida Gwaii.

“There’s confirmed cases of whooping cough yearly. It’s a good reminder for people to get immunized to prevent the spread, especially with the most vulnerable population,” said Dyck.

People of any age can get whooping cough, but young children who haven’t been immunized get sicker than older children and adults. Complications like pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death can be caused by pertussis, most often in infants under the age of one.

There are one-to-three deaths in Canada each year due to pertussis, mainly involving babies less than three months of age.

Without treatment, an individual with whooping cough is contagious for up to three weeks after the coughing starts. Pertussis can be spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or has close contact with others.

Once infected, pertussis can be treated with antibiotics to help reduce the spread and length of the illness if antibiotics are taken very early.

In B.C. the pertussis vaccination is given in combination with other vaccines as part of children’s routine immunizations, with a booster dose being provided to Grade 9 students. Adults who were not immunized as children can get a dose of the vaccine for free, but adults who were immunized when they were young must pay for booster doses.

Dyck encourages North Coast residents to get vaccinated at their local health units to prevent a whooping cough outbreak, with facility phone numbers listed on Northern Health’s website.