Whooping cough outbreak declared at Devon Middle School

12 cases of whooping cough confirmed in Fredericton 'outbreak'

An outbreak of whooping cough has been declared at Devon Middle School in Fredericton, the first outbreak in New Brunswick since 2012.

Jason Humphrey, director of communications for the Anglophone West School District confirmed the outbreak in an email to CBC News on Thursday night.

Humphrey did not say how many students, teachers or staff are affected by the bacterial respiratory infection spread through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing.

But a special immunization clinic will be held at the school library on April 27, according to a notice sent home to parents.

"During an outbreak, the medical officer of health can exclude children from school who do not show proof of the recommended doses of vaccine," the notice states.

"School officials will continue to work with public health and will follow their direction and guidance in addressing this matter," said Humphrey.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be life-threatening in babies and young children, according to the public health website.

It is most contagious during the first two weeks of infection when symptoms resemble the common cold.

The outbreak comes less than two weeks after one case of whooping cough was reported at the school, prompting a reminder from public health about the importance of immunization.

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

Early booster shot

Principal Gary Gallant emailed a "very important health notice" to parents on Thursday, saying the school had been advised of the outbreak by the medical officer of health for the central region.

"This message is not intended to alarm parents but to inform of the necessity and importance of all children having been properly vaccinated against pertussis," wrote Gallant.

"Normally we vaccinate all Grade 7 students with what is known as the TDAP booster against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, but since there is a declared outbreak we want ensure that all students are inoculated through a special clinic," he wrote.

The clinic will immunize Grade 6 students and replace the Grade 7 dose they would have received next fall. It will also be open to students in Grade 7 and 8 who did not get immunized in Grade 7.

"Parents will need to either submit proof of this vaccine to the school or sign the consent to have their child vaccinated at the school clinic."

Outbreaks in cycles

There are usually about 27 confirmed cases of whooping cough in the province each year.​​ Since January, there have been about 11 cases, most of them adults, officials have said.

"In outbreak years this may be closer to 500 cases," the office of the chief medical officer of health's website states.

During the 2012 outbreak, about 1,000 people were affected.

Outbreaks typically occur in cycles every three to five years, according to the website.

Whooping cough is on the rise because immunity from early childhood vaccination does not last throughout life. When immunity decreases, adults can become infected and transmit the disease to infants too young to be vaccinated.

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

In New Brunswick, the vaccine is typically given at two months, four months, six months and 18 months, followed by a preschool booster at age four, and again as an adolescent.

The routine adult immunization schedule recommends the tetanus and diphtheria boosters be given every 10 years and that one of the doses be for pertussis.

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics, but the cough can last for many weeks, even with treatment.

Parents with questions are encouraged to call Devon Middle School or public health at 453-8252.