Health

Get vaccinated, health workers urge, as NWT whooping cough cases rise


Public health workers in the NWT urged residents to get vaccinated as confirmed cases of whooping cough rose to 46.

The territory’s chief public health officer last month declared an outbreak of the disease, formally known as pertussis, in the Yellowknife and Tłı̨chǫ regions.

“The best way to protect yourself from getting pertussis is to ensure your immunizations are up to date,” said Kristin Richardson, a Yellowknife-based nurse practitioner. “The vaccine is very effective.”

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The pertussis vaccine comes in the form of a combined vaccine including protection against diphtheria and tetanus.

When chief public health officer Kami Kandola first declared an outbreak of whooping cough, on January 15, there were 20 lab-confirmed cases of the contagious bacterial infection. This week, health officials reported 46 such cases.

Children are vaccinated for pertussis then given boosters in kindergarten and Grade 7. As immunity fades over time, Richardson said adults need a booster every 10 years. The NWT government recommends a booster for pregnant women.

The vaccine is free of charge and part of the routine immunization schedule for residents.

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If you don’t know your immunization status, you can call public health at (867) 767-9120. Health workers can also help you find that information if you’re new to the territory or new to Canada.

Symptoms usually begin to appear a week to 10 days after exposure, but could take nearly a month to develop. They include mild fever, runny nose, red and watery eyes, sneezing, and mild cough.

Two weeks after the first symptoms begin, the cough becomes “severe, repeated, and forceful” according to territorial government advice, and ends with a whooping sound between breaths.

Anyone in Yellowknife experiencing symptoms can contact the primary health care clinic at (867) 920-7777 or come to the clinic during walk-in hours.

If you do head to the clinic, avoid exposing others by telling front-line staff about your symptoms, wearing a mask, and washing your hands frequently.

Pertussis is spread, Richardson said, through the expulsion of fluids from the lungs and airways in coughs and sneezes.

“There are some instances where, if you are in a confined space with people for greater than an hour, that might be considered a contact,” she added, “like being in a car with someone coughing for several hours, living in the same household, or being on a long flight.”

Sarah Bembridge, Yellowknife’s regional manager of public health, said it’s natural for people to be concerned when an outbreak is declared.

“I think there’s fear that exists at any point when there is an outbreak announced. Our job is to ensure people have access, have information, and the support they need,” Bembridge said. It’s hard to say, she added, whether there has been an increase in people getting tested for pertussis.

Bembridge said public health staff, as well as primary care workers, physicians, and healthcare workers in the wider community, have been informed and trained on actions to take during the outbreak.

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