Twelve cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in an "outbreak" in the Fredericton and central region, bringing the provincial total to 22, says the acting chief medical officer of health.
Only two of the cases are at Devon Middle School, where parents were notified of an "outbreak" at the school on Thursday night.
The "outbreak" actually referred to the region, Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters during a news conference on Friday afternoon.
"An outbreak will typically be declared if more than 10 cases are confirmed" in one area, she said.
"We're not trying to induce any discomfort or panic among people, we just want people to be aware and be informed."
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial respiratory infection spread through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing.
It is most contagious during the first two weeks of infection, when symptoms resemble the common cold.
New Brunswick usually sees about 27 confirmed cases province-wide each year.
The last "large outbreak" in the province was in 2012, when about 1,400 people were affected, but there was a smaller outbreak in the Moncton region last year with 60 to 70 cases.
"We're not seeing those kinds of numbers and … the protocols and processes that our public health staff are following right now are to prevent any further transmission," said Russell.
Those include preventive antibiotics being administered to people who have been in close contact with the confirmed cases, and health care providers being "more vigilant about trying to diagnose it and test for it," she said.
A special immunization clinic will also be held at Devon Middle School on April 27. It will immunize Grade 6 students and replace the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TDAP) booster dose they would have received in Grade 7. It will also be open to students in Grade 7 and 8 who did not get immunized in Grade 7.
The vaccine takes "a little while" to take effect, but "it's the best protection we have," said Russell, encouraging everyone to ensure their boosters of the routine childhood vaccination are up to date.
The 22 cases across the province involve people of all ages, including adults, she said.
Excluding unvaccinated students discretionary
No information about whether the two infected people at the school are students, teachers or staff has been released.
During an outbreak, the regional medical officer of health has the authority to exclude from school any students who don't show proof of the recommended vaccinations, said Russell. When excluded, children have to stay home from school for the duration of the outbreak.
It's at the regional medical officer's discretion, she said. "It would depend on the severity and it would depend on the numbers."
The notice sent to parents state: "To avoid disruption in your child's education, please sign the consent form to have your child immunized at school, or give proof that your child has the recommended immunization to the school administration office."
Russell said the situation will be reassessed next week, based in part on whether any further cases are diagnosed.