Whooping cough rate remains high in Kootenay Boundary

Pockets of whooping cough cases continue to pop up across the Kootenay Boundary.

Pockets of whooping cough cases continue to pop up across the Kootenay Boundary leading to overall numbers significantly higher than other regions.

Of the 38 pertussis (whooping cough) confirmed cases in the region this year, Dr Kamran Golmohammadi says the majority of those have been in the Castlegar area.

Following a Nov. 12 Interior Health (IH) review of statistics, Dr. Golmohammadi confirmed 24 new cases have been reported locally, adding to 140 diagnoses throughout IH facilities since January.

The bulk of those cases are children ages 10 through 14, which is a similar demographic to other regions in the province and across the country.

“The Kootenay Boundary area from an epidemiological perspective is very interesting,” the doctor told the Trail Times. “We continue to see scattered cases…in 2013 the high rates were in Trail,” he added. “We had high rates in Nelson in 2014, and nearly half the cases this year were in Castlegar. So far this year, Castlegar has the highest rate.”

The contagious disease is spread person to person through droplet contact (sneezing, coughing) and is very preventable with vaccine, says Golmohammadi.

Infants are most at risk for developing serious complications from pertussis, so he strongly advises parents maintain immunization schedules, which includes a “DPT” (diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus) vaccine at two months.

Intramuscular injections are repeated three more times until the child is 18 months, again at four to six years, then as a booster in Grade 9.

The preparation is extremely tolerable and effective, he says, but the trade off is an immune response that weakens over time.

That means adults and adolescents who have not received a booster vaccination are at risk of infection and can be the source of infection for infants and young children.

Public health has advised J.L. Crowe Secondary School that Grade 9 immunizations will take place Dec. 2, so students are reminded to wear a short-sleeved shirt that day.

“If you are exposed to the germ after a few months your immune response is brisk,” Golmohammadi clarified. “It is estimated within three to five years there is a waning phenomena so one booster dose at any age in adulthood is also recommended.”

Infection is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, so those afflicted require treatment of prescribed medication to lessen the infectious period from two to three weeks to as little as five days.

First symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold, and may include runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and a low-grade cough.

After one to two weeks, the dry cough evolves into severe coughing spells that can last for more than one minute, causing breathlessness.

Inhalation of air post-cough can produce the telltale whooping sound.

Besides vaccination, other practises can greatly reduce risk of infection.

Frequent hand washing, cough etiquette and a sick day from work or school minimizes contact and spread of the respiratory germ.

“It’s important for parents to immunize,” Golmohammadi concluded. “And it’s very important to maintain hand hygiene and to stay home if a person is sick, and limit transmission of the disease.”

One to three deaths related to pertussis occur in Canada each year, particularly in infants who are too young to be immunized, or partially immunized and unimmunized children.