Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 19, 2016 - 1:15 pm

Sharp rise in Iqaluit whooping cough cases a “concern,” says Nunavut health

Iqaluit public health to host vaccination clinic July 23

SARAH ROGERS
With 25 cases of whooping cough now confirmed in Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit public health will host a vaccination clinic July 23 targeted at pregnant woman and children under two. (FILE PHOTO)
With 25 cases of whooping cough now confirmed in Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit public health will host a vaccination clinic July 23 targeted at pregnant woman and children under two. (FILE PHOTO)

(Updated at 3:10 p.m.)

The number of cases of whooping cough in Iqaluit has jumped to 29 since the city’s first case was confirmed in late June, Nunavut health officials said this week.

And cases in another Baffin community, Hall Beach, where the first instance of whooping cough was just confirmed July 7, have already risen to 22.

The Nunavut Department of Health called the spread of the bacterial infection “an ongoing concern.”

Health officials are now encouraging parents of children who show any signs of whooping cough to go to the hospital or health centre to be checked out, and to ensure everyone in their household is vaccinated.

The territory’s first cases of the respiratory infection appeared in May in Pond Inlet, and the first case was confirmed in Iqaluit at the end of June.

Earlier this month, the health department said whooping cough had spread to a third community, Hall Beach, where the infection has since spread.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly-contagious bacterial infection marked by a cough, followed by high-pitched inhalation.

It can be spread to anyone, children under the age of one face the most serious risk of illness and potential brain damage if the infection if left untreated.

In Iqaluit, the majority of cases have been found in young people, said Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kim Barker.

“The largest group we’re seeing is young people from about nine to 15 [years of age],” Barker said July 19.

“Although we’re not worried about long-term illness in that group, we’re anxious to get them tested to help stop the spread to their younger siblings.”

Barker said the Iqaluit cases have largely been spread among family members who live in the same home.

About a quarter of the cases in Iqaluit are among infants; one of whom had to be medevaced out of the territory for care. There have been no deaths in Nunavut related to the infection.

Infants in Canada are typically vaccinated against whooping cough starting at two months of age.

Barker said the health department does not have statistics available on the rates of vaccination in Nunavut, but notes that there’s been a clear increase in those seeking vaccination since the first outbreak of the infection in May.

Health officials are encouraging pregnant women in their third trimester to get vaccinated against the infection, which is passed through to the placenta and offers a newborn child at least partial immunity.

To help encourage that, Iqaluit public health will host a vaccination clinic July 23 targeted at pregnant woman and children under two.

The Department of Health strongly is also asking parents of Iqaluit children who show these symptoms to visit the emergency room of Qikiqtani General Hospital:

• a cough followed by an unusual sound that sounds like “whoop” or a funny sounding cough (you can listen to the sound of one case of whooping cough here); and,

• vomiting after coughing or not breathing after coughing.

To avoid the spread of whooping cough, health officials say Nunavummiut should wash their hands frequently; to cough into a sleeve or tissue and to avoid sharing food, drinks or utensils. Smokers should also avoid smoking indoors.

Nunavut isn’t the only Canadian jurisdiction to see an outbreak. Since 2012, there have been notable outbreaks of whooping cough in parts of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec, where two infants reportedly died from the infection last fall.

The Public Health Agency of Canada registers one to four deaths related to whooping cough each year, typically in infants who are too young to be immunized, or children who are not immunized or only partially immunized.

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