Wednesday, 09 May 2012 08:50

Whooping cough makes an appearance in Southern Alberta

Written by  By Rose Sanchez
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Every three to five years residents of southern Alberta are reminded about the risk of whooping cough and its potential to spread through the region.

There has been an increased number of cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, reported in the past three months through the central and east parts of the South Zone of Alberta Health Services (AHS) including Medicine Hat, Taber, Vauxhall, Wrentham and Raymond.
“When we see it in smaller communities, we know it can spread to bigger communities,” says Dr. Vivien Suttorp, the South Zone medical officer of health for AHS. “(Last) week there was a case in a school, and we know where there is one case, there are likely more.”
According to information on the Alberta government’s personal health portal ( whooping cough “is a disease that causes very severe coughing that may last for months.”
It is also contagious with a 21-day incubation period.
It is possible to get whooping cough more than once and even if a person has been vaccinated against the disease, especially if it is more prevalent in an area. The concern is that children under the age of one year are most at-risk of suffering complications from pertussis.
“The vaccine is good, but there are lots of pockets in southern Alberta where we don’t have a lot of children immunized,” says Suttorp. “Every three to five years we see an outbreak mainly because we have these large pockets of non-immunizing individuals.”
Another contributing factor to the spread of the disease is that immunization against it is waning so adults may not have 100 per cent immunity.
The last outbreak of pertussis was in 2009 and it lasted for 11 months. Alberta Health Services South Zone individuals are monitoring the situation closely and are hoping to see numbers of reported cases decrease. If not, they will plan to step up their immunization efforts along with other measures.
Suttorp says the most important action individuals can take is to ensure their children receive pertussis vaccinations at two months, four months and six months of age. A booster immunization is also given to students ages 14-16, usually in Grade 9 in schools. Women in their third-trimester of pregnancy are also at risk.
“It’s very important to get those infants in, because they are most at risk,” adds Suttorp.
If babies do get whooping cough there can be complications including pneumonia, seizures or an infection of the brain.
Individuals who have a persistent cough, especially with the tell-tale “whooping” sound upon inhalation should see a doctor to be tested for the disease and if tested positive remain away from other people as much as possible. There are antibiotics for whooping cough which will decrease the spread of the bacteria.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
After the bacteria infects someone, symptoms appear about seven to 14 days later.
Symptoms of whooping cough usually last six to 10 weeks, but they may last longer. In young children, three stages can occur. Older children and adults don’t always have the same stages.
In Stage 1, symptoms are like those of a cold:
• Sneezing and a runny nose, a mild cough, watery eyes, and sometimes a mild fever.
• Symptoms last from several days to two weeks.
• This is when a person is most likely to spread the disease.
In Stage 2, the cold symptoms get better, but the cough gets worse.
• The cough goes from a mild, dry, hacking cough to a severe cough that can’t be controlled.
• A person may cough so long and hard he or she can’t breathe. When a person can take a breath of air, it may make a whooping noise.
• After a coughing fit, a person may vomit and feel tired.
• Between coughing fits, the person feels normal.
• Symptoms are most severe in this stage. They usually last two to four weeks or longer.
In Stage 3, a person gets better and grows stronger.
• The cough may get louder.
• Coughing fits may happen off and on for weeks.
• Coughing fits may flare up if the person gets a cold or has a similar illness.
• This stage may last longer if a person has never had the vaccine.
Washing your hands often and staying away from people who have a bad cough may help you avoid getting the disease.

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