Whooping cough outbreak spreading in southern Alberta
An outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, is spreading in southern Alberta, and it has health officials concerned.
In a statement Thursday, Alberta Health Services said there are now 146 confirmed cases in the South Zone, which covers the area south of Calgary, including the cities of Brooks, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
In just the past week, the number of confirmed cases of whooping cough in the area has jumped nearly 20 per cent.
Cases have been identified at schools, churches and other sites where children gather, AHS said. While the majority of cases have been among children, some adults have also been affected.
Health officials say the outbreak is confirmed in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, as well as smaller communities.
Dr. Mila Luchak, medical officer of health for the South Zone, says health officials have so far been unable to identify linkages between the most recent cases or a true source of the infection.
"So it's likely that there are a number of unreported cases and disease that's circulating more broadly in the community at this time," she said.
All of the cases in the South Zones are believed to be locally acquired, Luchak said. Travel-related illness is not suspected.
Meanwhile, four cases of whooping cough have been identified in Central Alberta. However, that number has not increased in several weeks.
The outbreak in the South Zone is hitting children ages nine and younger the hardest.
Symptoms of pertussis can start with runny nose, watery eyes and coughing. They can progress to difficulty breathing and vomiting.
For the most vulnerable, including infants, it can be much worse, Luchak said.
"There is the ability to cause more severe illness with pneumonia," she said. "There could be injury to the brain in some cases as well as seizure, and, even in some cases, death."
The South Zone has the lowest immunization rates for whooping cough in the province. In some areas, just 40 per cent of children are up to date by the age of two.
Childhood immunization coverage rates for pertussis (whooping cough)
Health officials are urging all Albertans to ensure they have all their pertussis shots. According to Luchak, about 75 per cent of identified whooping cough cases in the South Zone are among unimmunized individuals.
People with symptoms are encouraged to stay home and call their primary care provider or 811 for potential treatment.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection, not a virus, and it can be treated with antibiotics. Early treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms and help curb the spread of the disease.