Whooping cough 'cluster' in Surrey school prompts vaccinations

Fraser Health is offering early booster shots to Grade 8 students at a South Surrey high school after a 'cluster' of whooping cough cases has been making kids sick since September.

Fraser Health offers early booster shots to Grade 8 students at a South Surrey school after cluster of illness

Booster shots are being given tomorrow and next week to Grade 8 and 9 students at Semiahmoo Secondary School in Surrey after a number of already-vaccinated kids have gotten sick with whooping cough or pertussis.

Fraser Health is offering early booster shots to Grade 8 students at a Semiahmoo Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. after a 'cluster' of whooping cough cases there.

The health authority won't say how many kids have been sick, citing privacy reasons, but did say there has been "ongoing person-to-person transmission" among the Grade 8s since September.

"This is a little bit unusual because of the fact we have transmission occurring in a Grade 8 class, in youth who have been ... mostly fully immunized to-date for their age," said medical health officer Dr. Arlene King.

Booster shots are normally offered to Grade 9 students, but because of the cluster of illness, the Grade 8s will be offered an early dose on Thursday (Dec. 1) and again next week.

The health authority said the number of cases does not meet the threshold of an "outbreak," in part because it's confined to a specific school and age.

King declined to say what number of whooping cough cases would be considered an outbreak in South Surrey.

The cluster of whooping cough is in the Grade 8 class at Semiahmoo Secondary School in South Surrey, B.C., said health officials. (Google Streetview)

'Waning immunity' in older kids

Vaccinations for whooping cough, or pertussis, are recommended at ages of two months, four months, six months, 18 months, and 4 to 6 years old — with the last childhood booster in Grade 9, said King.

Seeing the disease in immunized kids is "of interest and concern," she said, but it's not unheard of for the vaccine to essentially wear off before children reach Grade 9.

"We have seen this phenomenon of what looks to be waning immunity in older children over the last few years, not just here but also in many parts of Canada and the United States as well."

In addition to giving the early booster to Grade 8s, the health authority will continue to monitor levels of whooping cough in the general community, which vary over time, but have been elevated since Sept. 1.

Very young infants and pregnant woman are especially at risk of complications, said King, but pertussis can be a serious illness for anyone.

"It can cause a very protracted forceful cough, and periods where individuals feel like they can't breathe."

None of the Semiahmoo Secondary-related cases required hospitalization, she said.