Increased risk of whooping cough in region

By Megan Walchuk

The Northwestern Health Unit is asking residents to be aware of an increased risk of pertussis in the region.

Manitoba Health has declared a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak in the Southern Health region. This year, 154 cases of pertussis have been reported to Manitoba Health, mostly in children zero to nine years of age. Due to summer travel, and the ease of spread for pertussis, cases could spread into northwestern Ontario.

Pertussis spreads easily through droplets in the air when a person who has it coughs or sneezes. The most common symptom of pertussis is severe coughing, and although it can affect people of any age, infants under one year old are at greatest risk of serious complications including pneumonia, brain damage/disease, seizures, and death. This age group is at particular risk, because they’re too young to be protected by a complete vaccine series, according to Health Canada. They may also show abnormal symptoms – they may not make the characteristic “whoop” sound, or even cough at all. Instead, they may suffer from potentially fatal apnea, where they fail to breathe.

According to Health Canada, there are typically between 1,000 and 3,000 cases of pertussis each year in Canada. Worldwide, there are about 20 to 40 million cases annually, and 400,000 deaths from the disease. Pertussis causes serious coughing fits that can lead to choking or vomiting. The coughing can be so intense that a “whooping” sound happens when you try to catch your next breath, which has given the disease its alternate name of whooping cough.

According to the NWHU, the best defence against pertussis is a vaccine, which has been in long-term use throughout Canada. Vaccination during pregnancy has been shown to provide 90 per cent protection for infants under three months of age, according to Health Canada.

“The pertussis vaccine helps your body to fight the disease and prevents spreading it to others. Now is the time to protect yourself and each other,” says Sandra Krikke, Infectious Diseases Program Specialist at Northwestern Health Unit.

Things you can do include:

  • Get vaccinated! Call your health care provider or your local NWHU office to book an appointment. Those eligible for a pertussis vaccine include:
    • Infants at 2, 4, 6 & 18 months of age
    • Children between the ages of 4 – 6 years
    • Most youth between 14 -16 years
    • Pregnant individuals (during each pregnancy)
    • Adults aged 18 and over who have not received a dose in adulthood
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with babies if you are not up to date on your vaccinations.
  • Tell your health care provider about any travel or exposure to someone with pertussis when seeking care.

For more information on symptoms and what a pertussis cough sounds like visit Health Canada’s page on pertussis / whooping cough.

Fast facts about whooping cough from the Centre for Disease Control

Whooping cough can be very serious, especially for babies.

  • Whooping cough can cause serious illness in people of all ages and can even be life threatening, especially in babies.
  • About one third of babies younger than 1 year old who get whooping cough need care in the hospital, and 1 out of 100 babies who get treatment in the hospital die.

Whooping cough is very contagious.

  • The bacteria that cause whooping cough spread easily from person to person through coughing and sneezing.
  • Some people have mild symptoms and don’t know they have whooping cough, but they can still spread the bacteria that cause it to others, including babies.

Severe coughing fits can last for weeks.

  • Pertussis is known as “whooping cough” because of the “whooping” sound that people can make when gasping for air after a fit of coughing.
  • Whooping cough can cause rapid, violent, and uncontrolled coughing fits until all air is gone from the lungs. These coughing fits can go on for up to 10 weeks or more.

Babies may not cough at all.

  • Babies may not cough at all. Instead, they may have apnea (life-threatening pauses in breathing) or struggle to breathe.
  • ANY TIME someone is struggling to breathe, it is important to get them to a doctor right away.

Vaccines are the best protection against whooping cough.

  • The best way to protect you and your loved ones is to stay up to date with recommended whooping cough vaccines.
  • Women should get a Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy to help protect their baby early in life.