Nearly 50 people in the West Kootenay have been struck with whooping cough during the last four months, with approximately 40 cases in Nelson. Interior Health calls the outbreak entirely preventable, noting that the situation is being exacerbated by Nelson’s unusually low immunization rate.
Medical health officer Dr. Rob Parker told the Star that though most BC communities have immunized approximately 90 per cent of their children and infants, Nelson is way behind at 65 per cent.
“It all comes down to community immunization,” said Parker. “The place we see repeated outbreaks is places like Nelson, where some parents believe in a more natural lifestyle or they’re trying to stay away from medication and drugs.”
Also caused pertussis, whooping couch is a bacterial lung infection that poses a serious risk to babies. Adults show much milder symptoms, which helps it to spread.
“We’ve been lucky so far. Nobody’s been hospitalized yet. If there’s a case where they are hospitalized, most often it’s an infant,” Parker said.
He said the outbreaks are cyclical, and return repeatedly to areas without sufficient immunization.
“The cause of whooping cough is always around. It’s in people’s noses even if they’re not getting sick, and they’re probably not getting sick because they have immunity through the vaccine. But as the new pool of young children who haven’t been immunized come up, that’s when you get an outbreak like this.”
Other than immunization, which is the only proper way to protect yourself from the airborne infection, which is usually spread by coughing, Parker said families should be sure to keep up on hygienic standards such as hand-washing.
Parker encouraged parents to talk to their local public health nurses and to visit immunizebc.ca for more information.