A whooping cough outbreak has been declared in Fredericton, where 10 children from “several” schools and two adults have been diagnosed since January, the regional medical officer of health announced Wednesday.
It comes on the heels of a whooping cough outbreak being declared at Moncton High School last month after five cases were confirmed.
The bacterial respiratory infection, which spreads easily through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing, can cause “severe disease” in young children, said Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey.
For infants under the age of one, it can be fatal.
“Fortunately, I’m pleased to say we have not had any hospitalizations,” Lamptey said during a news conference.
She is urging parents to seek medical attention if they or their children develop symptoms and to ensure they have all of the recommended immunizations.
Anyone exhibiting symptoms should avoid contact with pregnant women and infants under the age of one until they see a family doctor or visit an after-hours clinic, she said.
Starts like a cold
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, starts with cold-like symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and mild cough.
Over the next week or two, however, the cough worsens, leading to serious coughing spells that often end with a “whoop,” said Lamptey. The cough can last up to two months and may become so severe it causes the infected person to gag or vomit.
A doctor can confirm the diagnosis through a nose culture or blood test and, if the results come back positive, prescribe antibiotics. Once treated, a person with whooping cough is no longer contagious.
If left untreated, an infected person can spread the disease for up to three weeks after the onset of the cough.
Symptoms usually start within seven to 10 days of exposure.
Normally the Fredericton health region, which encompasses the Upper St. John River Valley, sees no more than one case a year, while the entire province see about 27 confirmed cases.
“We’re at April, which is just over a quarter of the year and we’re at 12 [in the city of Fredericton], so that is well over what we would expect to see,” Lamptey said.
The affected children are age six to 12, she said.
At least one of them attends Garden Creek Elementary, according to a letter Lamptey sent to parents, guardians and staff on Tuesday.
The other affected schools include: Park Street Elementary School, Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary, Nashwaaksis Middle School, Fredericton Christian Academy and George Street Middle School.
‘Some’ affected students missed booster
The fact that multiple schools are involved is not concerning at this point, or surprising given the extensive social interactions in the city, said Lamptey.
No school has more than three cases, but public health is keeping a close watch, she said.
“If we saw cases rise in a particular school, then public health would be taking action to verify immunization records and considering putting immunization clinics in schools that are in outbreak. We’re not at that stage yet.”
Although “some” of the affected students missed getting their recommended pre-school booster shot, there are no plans to exclude students who don’t have all of their immunizations, said Lamptey.
“If we got to an outbreak situation in a school, that is a measure that is available to the medical officers of health under the Public Health Act, but we’re not at a stage right now in a school where that is necessary.”
In New Brunswick, children should have doses of the pertussis vaccine when they are two, four, six and 18 months old and again at age four, followed by a booster dose in Grade 7, said Lamptey.
Adults should receive one dose of a pertussis-containing vaccine because immunity from the vaccine decreases over time.
Those who have not received all their immunizations are at highest risk for severe illness and complications, according to public health.
Vaccination is free and can be obtained by making an appointment with a primary care giver or through public health.
Stay at home
“You can protect yourself and protect those around you,” said Lamptey.
To help prevent spread of the disease, people should also stay home if they are sick and should wash their hands frequently.
The last large outbreak of whooping cough in New Brunswick was in 2012, when about 1,400 people were affected, but there was a smaller outbreak in the Moncton region in 2016 with 60 to 70 cases.
The last outbreak in Fredericton was in 2017, when 33 cases were confirmed, including 17 children and two infants.
It is possible to get whooping cough more than once.