Whooping cough in Fort St. James

The public is being urged to ensure vaccinations are up to date for whooping cough after a confirmed case in Fort St. James this week.

The public is being urged to check their vaccinations are up to date for whooping cough after a confirmed case in Fort St. James this week.

The bacterial respiratory infection known as whooping cough or pertussis is highly contagious and Northern Health is reminding the public of the importance of immunization, as the disease can lead to a severe condition in infants and can be deadly. The disease can also cause serious disease or complications to the fetus for pregnant women in the last three months of their pregnancies. Mothers of newborns can pass the illness on to the unprotected infants. Children less than three months old are especially vulnerable.

The illness begins with symptoms like those of a common cold and progresses to a cough. The cough can become severe, with or without the whooping sound and may be accompanied by gasping, gagging, shortness of breathing and vomiting as well as pneumonia. There may also be a mild, associated fever.

The illness is spread easily when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or has close contact with others. Sharing food or drinks, kissing and sharing cigarettes can all spread the pertussis bacteria.

Dr. William Osei with Northern Health said it is especially important for people to be diligent about hand washing and cough etiquette by covering their coughs and washing hands immediately after if hands were used.

“We don’t have an outbreak yet,” said Osei. The focus is on prevention and updating vaccinations for young children and pregnant women in their third trimester in order to prevent an outbreak, which Osei said would be difficult to control.

“This is a very infectious cough,” he said.

Someone with the pertussis bacteria who does not receive treatment can spread the illness for up to three weeks after the cough starts.

“The treatment is very effective and shortens the cough,” said Osei. “Otherwise the sickness can go on for weeks.”

Four laboratory-confirmed cases have been found in the northwest, one in Fort St. James and the others in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii.

The illness is preventable by immunization, part of normal child immunizations given at two months, four months, six months, and 18 months old and again between the ages of four and six, before the child enters Kindergarten.

In B.C., teens between 14 and 16 are also given the vaccine.

While the immunization decreases over time in adults, adults are not at risk for the more severe effects or death due to the pertussis, but should receive treatment if they become ill.

Northern Health is encouraging residents of northern B.C. to contact their local health units or health care providers to discuss the vaccine and ensure their vaccinations are up to date.

There is enough vaccine in the region and Osei said the problem can be dealt with.

“We are not in panic mode,” he said.

Less than 10 per cent of the population doesn’t vaccinate their children, so most children will not be at the higher risk of the more severe symptoms.

If you know you have been in contact with someone with whooping cough, call the Fort St. James Health Unit at 250-996-7178 or call HealthLink B.C. at 8-1-1.

For information on whooping cough go to: http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile15c.stm