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2 cases of whooping cough reported in Yukon

After two unrelated whooping cough were recently reported in the Yukon, Dr. Brendan Hanley is advising residents to watch out for symptoms, saying that 'it seems that we have a relatively susceptible population.'

'It seems that we have a relatively susceptible population,' says Dr. Brendan Hanley

Health officials are advising Yukon residents to watch for signs and symptoms of pertussis — better known as whooping cough — after two unrelated cases were recently confirmed in the territory.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory's Chief Medical Officer of Health, says that the last outbreak of whooping cough was three years ago, but more cases are being reported than usual.

"We're seeing pertussis a little bit more frequently in the last few years, and I don't know if that's understood why that should be the case," he says. "It seems that we have a relatively susceptible population."

Hanley notes there have been outbreaks in other parts of Canada in recent years. 

Early symptoms of pertussis are similar to those of a common cold: a runny nose, sneezing, a lowfever; and a mild cough. The caugh can then become severe enough to cause breathing problems, or make people gag and throw up, and symptoms can persist for up to 12 weeks.

One to three people in Canada die from pertussis every year — usually infants who are under-immunized.

Yukon's Chief Medical Officer says that residents should be on guard for symptoms of whooping cough, and that the best way to avoid the disease is to get vaccinated.

Hanley says pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease and getting immunized is the best way to protect yourself. In a press release, the Yukon government says that anyone unsure of their immunization status can contact the Whitehorse Health Centre, or their community health centre.

Vaccine effective, says doctor

Hanley says the vaccine is effective when widely used.

"There's definitely a protective effect from vaccination but it's not 100 per cent. The more a community is immunized the more the community is protected," he says. 

While immunized individuals can still get the infection, Hanley says this is far less likely.

"It's important that school children are up-to-date with their immunizations and adults should also receive a dose of pertussis immunization," he says. 

Hanley says Yukon does not recommend repeated immunizations as health authorities believe one dose provides enough protection. 

"If we could just assure that enough adults had just one dose, that would certainly help to protect the community. Especially in those households that have young infants or pregnant women. It's helpful for that whole family to be up to date with immunizations," he says. 

He adds the typical adult or teenager who contracts whooping cough will have a "very prolonged hacking cough" that can keep them awake at night, while symptoms for  younger children can include vomiting and a loud type of raspy laboured breathing that gives whooping cough its name. 

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