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Whooping Cough Preventable Through Vaccination

Sep 05, 2012
Pertussis, a highly contagious but vaccine preventable disease also known as whooping cough, is on the rise across North America, including here in Simcoe Muskoka. But why is pertussis resurfacing, you might ask? There is a natural cyclical increase of pertussis every 4 to 6 years, but decreased immunity of previously vaccinated adults is another explanation for the increase in cases.

Pertussis, a highly contagious but vaccine preventable disease also known as whooping cough, is on the rise across North America, including here in Simcoe Muskoka.  But why is pertussis resurfacing, you might ask?  There is a natural cyclical increase of pertussis every 4 to 6 years, but decreased immunity of previously vaccinated adults is another explanation for the increase in cases.

 

Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick and parts of Ontario are experiencing significant outbreaks of pertussis.  Even more concerning is that the United States is on the verge of the worst outbreak of pertussis since 1959, with more than 22,000 cases and 13 deaths reported since January.

 

A bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, pertussis is largely preventable through vaccination. The pertussis vaccine is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. In Ontario, this vaccination is publically funded at two, four, six and 18 months and then again at ages 4-6 and 14-16.  Parents are encouraged to ensure children are up to date with the recommended immunization schedule.

 

However, neither complete childhood vaccinations or natural infection with pertussis guarantees lifelong protection.  To combat waning immunity among adults in the province, the Ontario government has implemented a free immunization program that makes adults eligible for a pertussis booster vaccination.

 

By receiving this booster, adults can help protect themselves, but more importantly those who are most vulnerable to pertussis (infants and young children, the frail elderly, and those with weakened immune systems) and the potentially life threatening symptoms.  All adults are encouraged to discuss the pertussis booster with their healthcare provider. 

 

Pertussis causes an uncontrollable, violent cough lasting several weeks or even months. It is spread by direct contact with droplets from the nose and throat, produced by coughing or sneezing.  When these droplets enter the nose or mouth of another person, they can also develop pertussis.

 

In adults, pertussis causes a persistent nagging cough and is often mistaken for the common cold. The same is not true for infants and young children, the frail elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. In these populations, pertussis usually begins with mild cold-like symptoms, which may include sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough.

 

Within two weeks, the cough can become more severe, characterized by frequent episodes of rapid coughs followed by a high pitched ‘whooping’ sound and vomiting.  Symptoms can last from six to ten weeks, and in the most serious cases neurological damage, residual lung damage and death may occur in infants.

 

Help stop the spread of pertussis in our community by receiving your adult booster dose of pertussis and ensuring your children are immunized.   For more information and advice on the pertussis vaccine and other immunizations call Your Health Connection Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 705-721-7520 (1-877-721-7520) and speak with a nurse or check our website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.

 

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Dr. Lee is one of Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officers of health.


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