Whooping cough comes north

If you have a nagging cough that just won’t go away, it might not be a cold. It might actually be pertussis, better known as whooping cough. There’s an outbreak of the disease in the territory.

If you have a nagging cough that just won’t go away, it might not be a cold. It might actually be pertussis, better known as whooping cough.

There’s an outbreak of the disease in the territory. But, in the Yukon, it doesn’t take much to meet that threshold.

“If we have one case, we consider that an outbreak,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health.

So far, there have only been a few lab-confirmed cases, but there are undoubtedly more, he said.

This latest outbreak is linked to the one in B.C.

“It’s certainly not a panic situation, but people ought to know and need to know what’s going on,” said Hanley.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that attacks the lungs and throat.

At first, it just seems like a cold with sneezing, runny nose, a low-grade fever and a mild cough.

Typically the cough gets worse, so bad that it can cause people to gag and throw up. It can last for more than a month.

The name whooping cough comes from the sound people make gasping for breath after a fit of coughing.

For adults, it’s usually just an annoyance, but for young children it’s potentially deadly.

It’s less of a concern here in Canada, but in poor countries the fatality rate for infants can be as high as four per cent.

Of the 48.5 million cases worldwide, almost 300,000 people, mostly children, will succumb to the disease.

“The overall mortality isn’t huge, but in our days even one per cent is still significant,” said Hanley.

Health-care workers, day-care workers, pregnant women and anyone else who may come into contact with young children should make sure that their immunization is up to date, he said. It just takes one vaccination during adulthood to be fully immunized.

Children are a different story.

They’re usually vaccinated once in pre-kindergarten, and then again in Grade 9. However, it’s recommended that children be given a booster shot if it’s been more than five years since their last vaccination.

In 1998, a now-discredited study, published in the Lancet, showed a link between autism and childhood vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella.

Though the study has since been retracted and the author accused of fraud, the misconception persists, and has been blamed for a drop in immunization rates and outbreaks of preventable diseases.

“It’s such a complete, not only a misconception, but a fraudulent concept that has been propagated in the population,” he said. “We really want to reassure people that the benefits of vaccination are great in terms of preventing some diseases that can have serious consequences.”

In the Yukon, there hasn’t been any change in vaccination rates. Although there are people who are “firmly in the ‘No’ camp of refusing immunizations,” the majority of people simply forget, said Hanley.

“We have more people who just haphazardly fall behind in their schedule,” he said. “It’s been a few years since we had pertussis in the community, so I think it’s a good chance for everyone to remember what whooping cough is … and we’d like it as an opportunity to update any immunizations that may be out of date.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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