June 16th, 2024

AHS declares outbreak of pertussis in South Zone

By Lethbridge Herald on January 28, 2023.

Ry Clarke
Lethbridge Herald
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Alberta Health Services has declared an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in the central part of the South Zone, reminding people of the importance of immunization, especially in young children, to prevent further illness. 

AHS held a press conference early Friday morning with Dr Vivien Suttorp, lead Medical Officer of Health for South Zone, to discuss the outbreak, preventable strategies, and communities impacted by the infection. 

Communities impacted by the outbreak at this time are the County of Lethbridge, Coaldale, Taber, Vauxhall, Grassy Lake, and Bow Island. AHS notes these areas have significantly low childhood immunization rates, and that by age two, children should have received four doses of pertussis vaccine, whereas in some of these areas only one-third of two-year-olds have that proper dosage.

“Pertussis is a very serious illness, especially for the very young. Typically, in southern Alberta, we have outbreaks. A large outbreak in 2009, again in 2012/2013, and in 2017 we had about 450 cases that were reported. Now we are in 2023 and overdue for an outbreak,” said Suttorp. “There are 16 cases that we have confirmed, we suspect there are many more out there.” Suttorp notes three of those cases required hospitalization.

Pertussis illness starts with a runny nose, sneezing, fever, and a mild cough. 

“A challenge during this time of year is it is also respiratory virus season. There’s a lot of viruses that lead to runny nose, cough, low grade fever. Whooping cough has those same symptoms early on. What is unique about whooping cough is after about a week or so of this general respiratory symptoms there is an ongoing cough. This cough can last for months and months. Typically in young children, they cough and when they inhale after a big long episode of coughing, you can hear that whoop,” said Suttorp. “There is preventive strategies with immunization and access to making sure that individuals are aware of what to look for, and when to seek medical attention. Seeking medical attention early when you are exposed, or a baby has been exposed, there is medicine. It is a bacterial infection, there are antibiotics that can be offered early on. Antibiotics offered late in the disease do not change the course of the disease for the patient. So early treatment is important, especially for individuals who are at most risk or those who are around little babies.”

Hoping to keep prevention at the top of everyone’s mind, AHS is stressing the importance of immunization. “We have seen decreasing immunization in uptake in children over time. In South Zone, for example, in some communities we had 86% of kids immunized with four-doses by two years of age for whooping cough in 2008. Now in 2021, the data shows were some communities have 23%,” said Suttorp. “The immunization rates for whooping cough are down, but similarly they are down for other vaccine preventable diseases. This absolutely puts us at risk of having vaccine preventable disease outbreaks.”

AHS is hoping to prevent long lasting outbreaks in the province, hoping to curb vaccine hesitancy. “It is a spectrum of different beliefs, opinions, around immunization. It is not just the pandemic, we have seen this decreasing immunization uptake over time, even before the pandemic,” said Suttorp. “One is complacency, people think “Oh there’s no more measles”, or “This is not a bad illness, we all went through this years ago”” Suttorp also notes access to immunization and trust of vaccines are other factors at play for vaccine hesitancy.

With outbreak cropping up in southern Alberta, AHS is hoping preventable measures will be taken to curb the cough. “Vaccine preventable diseases are still unfortunately alive and well, and they can come to a place near you, city or community,” said Suttorp. “With decreasing immunization rates, we are at a increasing risk of having vaccine preventable disease outbreaks. These are serious diseases, especially for very young children, there are preventive measures.”

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John P Nightingale

No surprise. The areas cited are traditionally lacking in vaccine coverage. If not pertussis, then measles will surely raise its ugly head yet again.
Increasing vaccine scepticism alongside entrenched religious opposition within these communities, will ensure these totally preventable diseases will continue unabated.
And the victims? The children of course.


i see you as an intelligent and, more importantly, being a caring person. i will continue to press you and the so many others that somehow choose to be indifferent or callous about the torture of sentient creatures so as to derive sundry products for human use.