Alberta Health Services has declared an outbreak of pertussis — commonly called whooping cough — in parts of southern Alberta.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection that can cause severe coughing that can last for weeks. It's most dangerous to infants, who are at risk of serious complications, including pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.
The outbreak spans the County of Lethbridge, Coaldale, Taber, Vauxhall, Grassy Lake and Bow Island — all communities that have significantly low childhood immunization rates, AHS said.
The health authority says that by age two, children should have received four doses of the pertussis vaccine — but in some of these areas, only a third of two-year-old kids have had the shots.
Sixteen cases of pertussis have been identified in the South Zone. Of these, three patients needed to be hospitalized, AHS said.
"Pertussis immunization is safe and effective against preventing severe illness," AHS said.
The vaccinations are free for all Albertans under 18 years of age, people who are in the third trimester of pregnancy (27 weeks) and adults who have not had a tetanus booster in the past 10 years.