Whooping cough most dangerous for infants under 3 months
Harper Whitehead was a healthy, seven-pound, 15-oz. baby girl before contracting whooping cough (pertussis). Children have little, if any, immunity to pertussis for the first three months of life. Infants less than six months of age represent close to 90 per cent of all deaths caused by pertussis.
A pertussis outbreak was declared in March throughout AHS South Zone, where 42 cases of the disease have been reported this year. Typically, one to three cases of pertussis are reported in the South Zone every year.
“This is largely preventable and we know immunization is key to preventing outbreaks such as the one in the South Zone,” said Dr. David Strong, Acting Medical Officer of Health, South Zone.
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In response, AHS recently hosted a series of immunization clinics for parents and caregivers to address the ongoing outbreak in South Zone communities where there have been confirmed cases of pertussis or where immunization uptake is low. AHS is also communicating with new moms, their families and other at-risk populations in the zone to encourage immunization.
Additional clinics have been scheduled in the South Zone this month for parents and caregivers of infants less than one year of age living in or near the communities identified below:
- Raymond Community Health, July 23, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Taber Community Health, July 24, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Vauxhall Community Health, July 24, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- Coaldale Community Health, July 24, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- Bow Island Community Health, July 25, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
- Fort Macleod Community Health, July 25, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- Picture Butte Community Health, July 27, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Caregivers could include anyone who provides direct care: grandparents, nannies and staff from child care facilities, such as day-care centres and family day homes. Children will not be immunized at these clinics. The goal, Dr. Strong says, is to create a ‘cocoon’ of vaccinated people around newborns.
“By vaccinating the parents and caregivers with a pertussis booster, there is a decreased risk to the child contracting the disease from the people close to them,” he says.
Pertussis immunization is part of the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis) vaccine and is recommended at two, four, six and 18 months; at four to six years; and again in Grade 9.
Albertans who have not received the Grade 9 dose are eligible for a free, one-time adult dose of vaccine. Anyone who would like to discuss immunization or book an appointment to obtain the vaccine can contact their local community health office.
A spokesman for the Whitehead family also urges Albertans to keep immunizations up to date.
“Our family has been through a terrible tragedy,” says Dani Whitehead, sister of Jessica Whitehead, Harper’s mother. “This didn’t have to happen. We really just want to urge the public to make sure their immunizations are up to date. Have your children immunized.
“We are hopeful sharing our story will send a message to people who don’t think this disease is real and choose not to be immunized or have their children immunized. This is real. Harper was a perfect and beautiful baby and like any other family, we’d already begun to cherish her – now she’s gone and we believe this didn’t have to happen.”
Adds Dr. Strong: “I’d like to thank Jessica and her family for sharing their story. Their loss is unimaginable and we want to extend our condolences. We hope their courage in sharing their experience will serve as a catalyst for the public to reconsider if they’re choosing to refuse immunization.”
General inquiries about pertussis can be answered by calling Health Link Alberta at 1-866-408-5465.
Whooping Cough Backgrounder
Pertussis (whooping cough) is a disease that causes severe coughing that may last for months. Common symptoms of pertussis include:
- Starts as a cold with runny nose, sneezing, fever of up to 103 F (39.4 C), and mild cough.
- The cough becomes gradually more severe with repetitive coughing spells followed by a whooping sound when the child is breathing in; and vomiting following a coughing spell.
- Older children and adults may experience milder symptoms, such as a prolonged cough with or without coughing fits and no whoop.
- Infants under three months of age are at the highest risk of pertussis-related hospitalization and death as they have virtually no immunity to this disease.
- Infants under six months of age represent close to 90 per cent of all deaths caused by pertussis. The prevention of serious illness in infants is the main goal of the pertussis immunization program.
- Women who are in their last trimester of pregnancy are also at risk of spreading the illness to their babies.
- Immunization is recommended to prevent infection and reduce severity of illness. Individuals must complete the full immunization schedule to be protected from pertussis.
- In Alberta, immunization against pertussis is available, free of charge, through the routine childhood immunization program.
- Parents with children who have not received their age appropriate vaccine against pertussis should contact their local public health office to arrange for immunization.
- If parents suspect pertussis is in the home, they should keep anyone who is sick at home and call their family physician or Health Link Alberta at 1-866-408-5465 for advice.
- Pertussis immunization is part of the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis) vaccine and is recommended at two, four, six and 18 months; at four to six years; and again in Grade
- Albertans who have not received the Grade 9 dose are eligible for a free, one-time adult dose of vaccine. Anyone who would like to discuss immunization or book an appointment to obtain the vaccine can contact their local community health office.