Whooping cough at Fredericton school prompts reminder to get immunized

Whooping cough at Fredericton school prompts reminder to get immunized

The province's Public Health Department has taken precautionary measures after a case of whooping cough was reported at Devon Middle School in Fredericton.

A notice was sent out to parents and guardians over the weekend with a link to an information sheet about the illness.

"All the steps that needed to be taken at this point have been taken," said Jennifer Russell, acting chief medical officer of health for New Brunswick.

But Russell said immunization is important, especially to protect the most vulnerable — families with infants or pregnant women.

She said people connected with the Devon school who may be at high risk for the illness have been instructed to visit their family doctor and be tested for symptoms. 

Russell said the bacterial infection, also known as pertussis, can cause a "whoop" sound while breathing or coughing that can progress over several days.

The illness can be particularly dangerous for very young babies, leading to hospitalization and sometimes death.

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Infants, especially those under four months, are at risk for life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, an inability to breathe, seizures, and brain damage.

"It gets worse and worse to the point where you can start vomiting and gagging and choking," Russell said. "It has that characteristic whoop sound with it also."

The illness is passed on through droplets in the air, so people in close contact, such as families living together, are more likely to catch it. 

"It's not as easy to pick up in the general public," she said.

Disease not that common

Russell said there are a few cases of whooping cough in the province in an average year.

Since January, there have been 11 cases, most of them adults. 

The last time there was an outbreak was in 2012, when about 1,000 people caught whooping cough. Last year there was a smaller outbreak in the Moncton region, with 60 to 70 cases.

"They're people who actually weren't up to date with their immunization," she said. "The message this morning is prevention, and the best prevention is getting up to date with your immunizations."

Immunization is necessary 

In New Brunswick, immunization rates have always been relatively good, but there's always room for improvement in the population as a whole so the vulnerable are protected.

She said people can get the immunization in Grade 7 or as adults. Immunization is free and people can contact their doctors or visit the government website to get more information.

"You can't always predict these things," she said. "There is an unpredictability to this."