Health officials say some young children came close to death in a whooping cough outbreak in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region.

The province has had about 200 confirmed and suspected cases of whooping cough since March, according to officials, though the number within the Prince Albert health region has been about 50 confirmed and suspected cases, as of May.

The highly contagious lung and throat infection can affect people at any age, but it can be fatal for very young children.

Dr. Khami Chokani, medical health officer for the health region, says there have been no deaths in this outbreak, but there have been "some very, very close encounters. Very, very, very, very close.

"I take my hat off to our clinical teams that have kept them alive and on to recovery."

He said in the more serious cases, health care workers would not send the children home unless their caregivers showed proof that their immunizations were up to date.

"We won't let the child go home because what's the point? Send it home again to get infected? No."

He said parents and caregivers were co-operative in those cases.

Vaccinations, handwashing important

The outbreak is located in the health region's northwest section, and doctors are advising everyone in the health region to check on their vaccination status.

Children can be vaccinated for whooping cough as young as two months old. Around six months of age is when children are often vaccinated for other potential ailments. 

Health officials urge parents and other caregivers to make sure their immunizations are up-to-date to help protect young children from infection. Handwashing is also key to avoiding spreading infections.  

Chokani says one of the reasons whooping cough spreads so easily is because people can be contagious without showing symptoms.

"If you pick it up today, you may not be coughing for the next 14 days but in those 14 days, you're busy passing it around," he said.

Health Canada is working with First Nations communities in the area to promote the voluntary childhood vaccination program. It's also working with pregnant women to make sure they're immunized as well.

Anyone who isn't sure whether they're up to date with their immunizations is asked to call their local public health office.

People can also catch the infection multiple times, and those affected don't develop permanent immunity.

People who are immunized may still catch the disease, but the health region said symptoms will likely be milder.

A whooping cough outbreak was reported in Saskatoon and Yorkton in 2015.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated there were 200 cases of confirmed or suspected whooping cough within the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region. There were 200 within the province, not the health region. Children can also be vaccinated for whooping cough at two months of age; they do not have to wait until six months of age.
    May 11, 2017 9:59 AM CT
With files from Stefani Langenagger