Whooping cough outbreak causes one death in Nunavut’s capital

Health officials look to quash outbreak in Iqaluit

Here’s a close-up look at the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which causes whooping cough or pertussis. An outbreak of the illness has now struck Iqaluit. (Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

By Jane George

Health officials in Iqaluit want to stop an outbreak of whooping cough in the city before the highly infectious disease claims another person.

Whooping cough has already killed one person in Iqaluit, and there are currently “less than five” confirmed or probable cases of the illness, said Dr. Mike Patterson, Nunavut’s chief medical officer, on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe.

Nunavut has been hit by several outbreaks of whooping cough in recent years, with the most recent big outbreak taking place in 2017.

Every year in Canada, there are one to three deaths due to whooping cough, mostly in babies under the age of three months who have not been immunized, according to Health Canada.

Vaccinations and antibiotics can work to fight the spread of the whooping cough infection, Patterson said.

But many jurisdictions, not just Nunavut, are having trouble with the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases like whooping cough, he said.

That’s because there are “increasing rates of hesitancy and outright refusal to get vaccinations,” he said.

If you live in Iqaluit and don’t know whether you have been vaccinated against whooping cough within the last five years, contact the public health office, Patterson said.

Nunavut’s Health Department still doesn’t have access to online medical records, due to the Nov. 2 ransomware attack on the Government of Nunavut. But health workers can still consult paper records to see who has been vaccinated.

But in a case of “significant doubt and concern,” it would be reasonable to go ahead and vaccinate, said Patterson.

However, vaccination isn’t the answer for everyone because it takes two weeks for the vaccine’s protection to kick in and, during that period, you can still spread or contract whooping cough.

Depending on the degree of contact, doctors can decide to treat whooping cough prophylactically with antibiotics—that is, to offer medication to prevent the illness.

“That would be good for people who have symptoms or more than casual contact or who are at high risk with complications,” Patterson said.

The GN could vaccinate up to 2,000 people in Iqaluit, he said.

“We’re in good shape and, if we do get a run, we can get more (vaccine) fairly quickly,” he said.

For now, anyone with a cough should stay away from pregnant women, infants or those who have trouble with their immune system.

There are other levels of protection to contain the outbreak that the GN could consider if the outbreak spreads.

Patterson said they would keep an eye on that and “be more aggressive if needed.”

Whooping cough is generally marked by a cough followed by a high-pitched inhalation, which you can listen to here.

Other symptoms of the infection include:

  • A cough that lasts longer than a week
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting after coughing
  • Coughing that is worse at night
  • A high fever (39 C and above) that lasts more than three days

You can take precautions against spreading whooping cough by frequently washing your hands, coughing into your sleeve or a tissue, and not sharing food, drinks or any utensils or toothbrushes.

Parents of babies or small children should take extra precautions given the contagious nature of whooping cough.

You can learn more about whooping cough by reading the pertussis fact sheet available on the Department of Health’s website.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Harvey Latrosse on

    So I am at qwik stop at Inuksugait Plaza. Young man cashier wearing blue mask over his face. Said he was really sick. Had purchased a coffee. I ask him whats with the mask. He says dont worry he wont touch the coffee. Like lol. So this place is serving food, continous customers all day, small town, flu, whooping cough and mgt allows this kid to work. Your kidding me. Somebody needs a good kick in the arse.

  2. Posted by Dr Douglas Jenkinson on

    Your worrying article refers to my website to hear the sound of the characteristic coughing. I am flattered that you make this link. It is indeed important to know what it sounds like. Your article also describes the symptoms of whooping cough but unfortunately contains an error. High fever (over 39 C) is listed. Fever is NOT a feature of uncomplicated whooping cough, although sometimes there is mild fever of under 38C in the early stages. It is important to realise that whooping cough in the early stages is no different from ordinary coughs and colds. That is why prevention by immunization is the only practical way of controlling it.

  3. Posted by Cyber Dr on

    If you are sick please stay home, we don’t want to spread colds, flu and any other sickness around.

  4. Posted by Northern Guy on

    If you want to know the number one way to stop whooping cough (pertussis) in in tracks. GET YOUR KIDS AND YOURSELF VACCINATED! The vaccines are free and readily available at public health.

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