LETHBRIDGE - In just two weeks, the number of new whooping cough (Pertussis) cases in southwestern Alberta has exploded, from 12 to 58.
Alberta Health Service's Dr. Vivian Suttorp says nearly 90% of those who are infected, have not been vaccinated.
"We have a lot of individuals out in the community with whooping cough. Usually people who are not immunized have a more severe form of the disease, and we see much more transmission in those populations."
She says the outbreak began in the area of Fort Macleod, County of Lethbridge and Coaldale areas, and were all related. Now, the outbreak has permeated the City of Lethbridge.
"I think what we have in southern Alberta is a number of different communities and settings where there's a spectrum of vaccine hesitancy. There are differences in acceptance of immunization for children and adults, and there are different reasons as to why individuals choose not to immunize their children."
She says some of those reasons could be the belief that the vaccinations are either dangerous, or ineffective.
"The vaccine is effective and safe. It is one of those vaccines however, where we do see waning immunity. Children, infants- they need multiple doses. And as adults, we also need a dose. Sort of like Tetanus. Tetanus we also need a booster, and we actually recommend it every 10 years."
Suttorp says if there's a community where everyone is immunized, we would not be seeing an outbreak like the one going on now. For example, if there are schools where only a small percentage of children are immunized, they'll continue to see ongoing cases in the school for 6-10 months in kids and adults.
"But in an immunized school where 97-98% of kids and adults are vaccinated, we may see 1 or 2 cases, despite some waning immunity. We see very limited spread of the disease," she explains.
Because of the skyrocketing numbers only two weeks into the outbreak, Suttorp says it will only increase and put many others, like babies who can't yet be vaccinated, at great risk.
"The most at risk are the young, vulnerable infants," Suttorp reiterates. "The disease impacts them the most, and even more so, if they have no immunity. Children under the age of 2 are the most at risk."
This time around, the disease has hit babies as young as 2 months old, and as people as old as 71. The average age of those infected is 10 yrs. old.
The last time there was a large whooping cough outbreak in southwestern Alberta was in 2009, and now, Suttorp says all children born in the 8 years since who have not had their shots, are a great pool of susceptable individuals.
That's where the bacteria can propagate and replicate and spread to other vulnerable people.
She reminds people in southern Alberta that preventable diseases do exist, and that we can not and should not, become complacent.
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