A recent increase in whooping cough in our the West Kootenay has a regional medical health officer concerned about what he’s calling an outbreak.
“The West Kootenays have had a surge of whooping cough cases in children over the last few weeks, following a large whooping cough outbreak there in 2010,” said Dr. Rob Parker, Medical Health Officer for Interior Health.
One or two cases of whooping cough per month is the norm and sometimes months go by without any cases being reported.
Since the start of June, there have been 19 cases.
Parker attributes this outbreak, as well as the ones in 2006 and 2010, to localized low vaccination rates. The West Kootenays and the Fraser Valley have some of the lowest childhood immunization rates in the province. In this region, the rate of vaccination is 65 per cent.
“When a large percentage of a population is vaccinated, a disease can’t take hold,” said Parker. “When childhood immunization rates fall below 90 per cent we start losing the protection offered by herd immunity and this puts unimmunized children and newborns at increased risk. So, it is no surprise that we see recurrent outbreaks of communicable diseases in communities with the lowest immunization rates.”
In the East Kootenay and the Okanagan where immunization rates are higher, there haven’t been similar outbreaks, he said.
Most of the cases reported so far have been in Rossland and Trail. There are no reported cases in Nelson at this point though there were during the 2010 outbreak.
Though there aren’t cases today, with summer travel, the highly communicable disease could make a local appearance. Both measles and whooping cough can spread quickly and easily among those who aren’t vaccinated, said Parker.
“That’s why we wanted to put the alert out. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get cases in Nelson,” he said.
It is also possible for those who were vaccinated as a young child to get whooping cough as their immunization from Kindergarten has worn off and they haven’t yet had their Grade 9 booster.
“For a percentage of the kids, there will be enough fading immunity so they can still come down with the illness,” Parker said.
Whooping cough can cause serious consequences for any child, but newborns and infants are at greatest risk. The best way to protect newborns and infants is through high vaccination rates — also known as herd immunity, said the public health officer.
Dr. Parker recommends that parents review all their children’s immunization records to make sure they are up to date with their shots before the new school year starts.
“All parents want to do what is best to protect their families, so it is important for them to know that vaccines are safe and that the main side effects such as a sore arm or mild fever are minor and temporary,” adds Dr. Parker. “It does take a village to raise and protect all children. Each parent immunizing their child protects not only them but their friends’ and neighbours’ children.”