Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 20, 2016 - 7:00 am

Whooping cough outbreak grows in Nunavut community

“The concern is more young children who can become very ill"

SARAH ROGERS
Government of Nunavut health officials say they've confirmed cases of whooping cough in the Baffin community of Pond Inlet. (FILE PHOTO)
Government of Nunavut health officials say they've confirmed cases of whooping cough in the Baffin community of Pond Inlet. (FILE PHOTO)

An outbreak of whooping cough in Nunavut has grown to 13 cases — all of them within the north Baffin community of Pond Inlet.

Health officials first warned May 16 of a four confirmed cases of this bacterial infection, a number that had risen by nine two days later.

The infection, which is marked by a severe cough followed by a whooping sound, breathing difficulty and a fever, has hit a mix of age groups, from babies to adults.

“The concern is more [for] young children who can become very ill,” said Dr. Kim Barker, Nunavut’s chief medical officer.

“The issue we’ve seen is that they haven’t been fully immunized yet.”

Barker said that, for now, the community’s health centre staff is equipped to deal with the outbreak.

That’s because whooping cough can be treated with an antibiotic that is in good supply.

Whooping cough can last for several weeks, and, in rare cases, the infection can cause brain damage or death. However, none of the cases in the current outbreak appear to be a cause for major concern at this point, she said.

There have been recent outbreaks of whooping cough through Canada, although not in Nunavut.

“It’s not unusual to see whooping cough cycle in and out every six to seven years,”  Barker said.

Immunization can make a difference is how the infection spreads in any given community, but Barker said the immunization status of most children in Pond Inlet is “excellent.”

Barker couldn’t provide vaccination rates for the territory, but said these rates are strong across Nunavut.

In Canada, infants are typically immunized against whooping cough at two months of age, and again at four month, six months, 18 months and at four to six years of age.

Nunavut health officials recommend that pregnant mothers get vaccinated against whooping cough to protect their babies against the infection.

Nunavummiut can also come to their local health centre to receive a booster shot to protect against the infection if they haven’t been immunized.

Health officials encourage people in Pond Inlet or elsewhere to keep an eye out for symptoms, such as a severe cough and fever, and report any of these symptoms to their health centre, particularly if the person who is sick is a child.

As another precaution, the GN also suggests that families with young children encourage frequent hand-washing, cough into a sleeve or tissues and avoid sharing food and drinks.

Barker said the health department has been in touch with other health centres across the territory, so staff know to look for symptoms of whooping cough.

Cigarette smoke is a major culprit in this infectious illness — smoking aggravates respiratory health, but even more so for someone who has a cough, she said.

“We’re really trying to push the message of not smoking indoors and really trying to avoid smoking in front of children,” she said.

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