The New Brunswick government will begin immunizing new parents against whooping cough in the hopes of preventing an outbreak.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder, the province's deputy chief medical officer of health, said the vaccines will be rolled out in January to fight whooping cough, also known as pertussis, which is a bacterial infection in the respiratory tract that resembles a common cold except for the prolonged coughing.
Van Buynder said the new initiative is needed to combat dropping immunization rates, the cyclical nature of the illness, with outbreaks occurring every four years, and a change in lifestyles.
"Many parents are having their children much older in life, in their 30s and sometimes even older and the whooping cough vaccine no longer protects them," Van Buynder said.
Whooping cough facts:
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a serious infection of the lungs and throat.
- About one in 200 people who get pertussis will die.
- Pertussis can cause pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.
- Complications are seen most often in infants.
- The germ (bacteria) is easily spread by coughing, sneezing or close face-to-face contact.
- Pertussis can cause severe coughing that often ends with a whooping sound before the next breath.
- This cough can last several months and occurs more often at night.
In the 1950s, thousands of young Canadian children and infants came down with the illness, many died and a huge vaccination program got underway.
Within the last year, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and California have had outbreaks of whooping cough.
Van Buynder said he believes New Brunswick is overdue for an outbreak.
Whooping cough can cause death in infants under six months of age because they cannot be immunized and often have serious complications.
With an outbreak expected over the next few months, Van Buynder said the health department decided to take action and for the first time offer the vaccine to new parents.
"We are going to offer pertussis vaccine starting the first of January to every mother in hospital who has just had a baby and to her husband," Van Buynder said.
"We know at least two-thirds of these children under one [who] get whopping cough actually get it from their close family."
Dr. Mark Messenger, a Fredericton pediatrician, said whooping cough can be quite severe in young children.
"The most severe is what is called pertussis pneumonia and it's an infection in the lung that can become very severe and certainly in the Maritimes every couple of years we have a fatality and I have certainly looked after some of these kids," Messenger said.
The New Brunswick Department of Health's approach is similar to what Saskatchewan has done.
The Saskatchewan Health Ministry recommended in June that mothers of newborns receive the vaccination.
Saskatchewan health officials reported in September that the province had 120 cases of whooping cough, which is four to five times higher than normal.