Whooping cough outbreak declared at Fredericton middle school

The whooping cough outbreak in the Fredericton health region has taken a turn for the worse, with an outbreak now being declared at a middle school.

There are five confirmed cases of the disease, also known as pertussis, at George Street Middle School, including both students and staff, according to Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, regional medical officer of health.

That brings the total number in the capital region up to 30 since the outbreak began in April, she said.

Normally the Fredericton health region, which encompasses the Upper St. John River Valley, sees no more than one case a year, while the entire province see about 27 confirmed cases.

Public health held an immunization clinic at the school Wednesday, offering the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine to all Grade 6 students with a signed consent form.

Grade 7 students usually get a booster dose in the fall, but public health decided to offer it early because of the growing number of cases at the school, said Lamptey.

Children who are under age 12 may still require a subsequent adolescent dose, she advised parents in a letter Monday.

"Cases of pertussis (whooping cough) are increasing at your school," the letter said. "Please act to protect your child."

The clinic was also open to students in Grade 7 and 8 who were not immunized in Grade 7, as well as staff, said Lamptey.

'Robust uptake'

Nearly 150 of the school's estimated 750 students and 36 of 75 staff members participated, according to preliminary numbers.

About 87 per cent of Grade 7 and 8 students at the school had already been immunized in the fall of 2018 and 2017.

"I am very pleased that we had a very robust uptake today especially considering the many competing things that people are thinking about this time of year as the school year comes to a close," said Lamptey.

The impending end of the school year was one of the reasons public health decided to hold the clinic, she said. "Because the ability to immunize this group quickly and efficiently would be more difficult as people dispersed over the summer."

Anyone who missed the clinic and wants to be vaccinated is encouraged to call public health or their primary health-care provider to make an appointment.

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Meanwhile, the infected individuals have been instructed to stay home until they complete their antibiotic treatment, said Lamptey.

The bacterial respiratory infection spreads easily through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing.

It can occur at any age, but is most serious in young children. For infants under the age of one, it can be fatal.

One of the confirmed cases in the region is an infant, said Lamptey, but as far as she knows, no cases have required hospitalization.

Symptoms resemble common cold

Symptoms usually begin within seven to 10 days of exposure and resemble the common cold. They can include sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough that gradually worsens, leading to serious coughing spells that often end with a "whoop."

The cough can last up to two months and may become so severe it causes the infected person to gag or vomit.

If left untreated, an infected person can spread the disease for up to three weeks after the coughing begins.

The disease can be diagnosed through a nose culture or blood test.

In New Brunswick, health officials recommend children have doses of the pertussis vaccine when they are two months old, four, six and 18 months old and again at four years old, followed by a booster dose in Grade 7.

Adults should also receive one dose of a pertussis-containing vaccine because immunity from the vaccine decreases over time, Lamptey has said.

1st cases in January

Whooping cough cases started popping up in the Fredericton region in January. The outbreak in the health region was declared after 10 children from several schools and two adults were diagnosed.

In addition to George Street Middle School, the affected schools have included: Garden Creek Elementary, Park Street Elementary School, Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary, Nashwaaksis Middle School and Fredericton Christian Academy.

In May the number of cases jumped to 22 and then to 28 earlier this month.

Moncton High School also had an outbreak in March.

The last outbreak in Fredericton was in 2017, when 33 cases were confirmed, including 17 children and two infants.

The last large outbreak of whooping cough in New Brunswick was in 2012, when about 1,400 people were affected. There was a smaller outbreak in the Moncton region in 2016 with 60 to 70 cases.