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Whooping cough hits Okotoks as Alberta outbreaks drag on

Alberta Health Services says 39 cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have been confirmed in the Calgary zone since November, including 17 in the Okotoks area. (Winnipeg Health Region - image credit)
Alberta Health Services says 39 cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have been confirmed in the Calgary zone since November, including 17 in the Okotoks area. (Winnipeg Health Region - image credit)

A new pertussis outbreak in Okotoks is prompting health officials, once again, to warn Albertans to protect themselves against the illness with immunization.

According to Alberta Health Services, 17 cases of the disease, also  known as whooping cough, have been confirmed in the Okotoks area since November, including one person who was hospitalized.

Another 22 cases have been identified in other parts of the Calgary zone during the same period for a total of 39 cases. All of these cases were locally acquired, AHS said in a health advisory issued Tuesday.

The latest rash of outbreaks began more than a year ago in the south zone. Last month, AHS confirmed 966 cases had been reported province-wide since November 2022.

According to the health authority, 29 pertussis-related hospitalizations have occurred in that time.

So far this year, 120 lab-confirmed cases have been detected in the province.

"Pertussis is a bacterial infection that causes severe and prolonged coughing that lasts for weeks," the latest statement said.

"It can impact people of all ages; however, infants one year and younger are at greatest risk of serious complications, including pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death."

According to AHS,  between one and four pertussis-related deaths are reported each year in Canada, most often babies who are too young to be immunized or children who are not yet fully vaccinated.

Vaccination for kids, adults

As case counts continue to tick up, health officials are urging Albertans to take steps to limit the spread of pertussis.

"Immunization is the best method to protect against and limit the spread of pertussis, along with regular hand washing, covering coughs, staying home when sick and remembering not to share drinks, food or cutlery," the advisory said.

Alberta's routine childhood immunization rates have dropped in recent years.

The schedule recommends babies receive their first dose of the vaccine that protects against pertussis (dTAP) at two months of age, with further doses at four, six and 18 months.

Boosters are also given when children are four years old and again in Grade 9.

"Pertussis immunization is safe and effective against preventing severe illness," AHS said.

"It is free of charge for all children less than 18 years of age, people who are in the third trimester of pregnancy (27 weeks), and adults who have not had a … booster in the past 10 years."

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends the shot be offered during each pregnancy, ideally between 27 and 32 weeks gestation.

In addition, the province recommends all adults get boosted every 10 years.

According to AHS, the first signs of pertussis are a runny nose, sneezing, fever and mild cough.

Over the course of a about a week, coughing will get worse and can be punctuated by severe coughing spells, which are usually followed by a "whooping" sound when young children inhale. Vomiting can also occur after coughing fits.

AHS advises Albertans to stay home and call a family doctor or Health Link, at 811, if they suspect whooping cough.

When the diagnosis is confirmed, they're advised to stay home until five days of antiobiotic treatment is completed.

For vaccination information and booking, AHS said Albertans can call Health Link. For general information about the illness and how to prevent its spread, there is also the option to text 'Whooping Cough' to 88111, the health authority said.