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Whooping cough cases spike in southern Alberta, officials say

Officials say 11 cases of whooping cough were confirmed in adults and children over the past week in southern Alberta.

11 cases of the contagious illness confirmed in Lethbridge area in past week

Cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in Lethbridge, the County of Lethbridge and Raymond. (CBC)

Health officials are warning southern Alberta residents to take precautions after a recent spike of whooping cough cases. 

Eleven cases have been confirmed in the past week in both adults and children in Lethbridge, the County of Lethbridge and Raymond, including one case at Raymond Elementary School.

Officials said the 11 cases reported in three communities over the past week raises concerns.

"When cases are locally acquired without any travel history, that always makes us a little concerned from a public health perspective," said Dr. Vivian Suttorp with Alberta Health Services.

Particularly concerning for health officials are those cases that have emerged out of communities and schools with low immunization rates.

According to Suttorp, some schools in the area have pertussis immunization rates as low as 20 per cent — a red flag for officials given the fact that whooping cough is spread easily.

"If someone has it, it's 21 days people can be infectious. So it's a long time," she said.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that brings with it a spectrum of illness. Small children and infants typically have more severe symptoms compared with adults, and babies could be at risk of complications like pneumonia and death.

Even adults who have had the illness or have been vaccinated in the past could have waning immunity, Suttorp said.

"It makes a lot of adults vulnerable to disease as well, making them also spreading disease in the community," she said. "So we have 11 confirmed cases,. We know there are more out there. These have been locally acquired, and we know there is more disease out there."

Health officials are not yet calling the spike an outbreak.

"Not an outbreak at this point, but we wanted individuals to know that there is an increase in incidents and to make sure to take appropriate precautions," Suttorp said.

Previous outbreak

An outbreak of whooping cough in 2017 led to 457 cases in the south zone.

Health officials voiced similar concerns around immunization rates in the area from Fort Macleod to Coaldale prior to the larger outbreak. 

"Given the large number of unimmunized individuals who live in this area, and children especially, we're quite concerned that this is going to be a prolonged outbreak," Suttorp told CBC in 2017.

There have been 38 cases of whooping cough so far this year in southern Alberta. 

Suttorp said those with whooping cough should stay home for five days until their antibiotics are complete.

With files from Jennifer Lee

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