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'Absolutely an outbreak': Whooping cough cases in Pond Inlet rise to 13

Nunavut's chief medical officer of health is confirming an outbreak of whooping cough in Pond Inlet, now that the number of cases has risen to 13.

'It's probably not possible for us to contain it,' says Nunavut's chief medical officer of health

There are now 13 cases of whooping cough in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Nunavut's chief medical officer of health is confirming an outbreak of whooping cough in Pond Inlet, now that the number of cases has risen to 13.

"The situation in Pond Inlet is absolutely an outbreak,' said Dr. Kim Barker.

In the past three days the number of whooping cough cases in the community has risen from four confirmed cases to 13, which include confirmed and probable cases. 

With people constantly coming in and out of the community of about 1,500, it's unlikely that the outbreak can be isolated.

"It's probably not possible for us to contain it," said Barker.

Both infants and adults have been affected. 

'It’s really important that all pregnant women after 27 weeks pregnant do get the immunization,' says Dr. Kim Barker, Nunavut's chief medical officer of health. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Immunization the best defence

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial infection most commonly spread through coughing or sneezing. Anyone can get the illness, but it can be very serious for babies or those with weakened immune systems. 

"The best way to protect yourself is to be immunized, to be vaccinated," said Barker.

Health staff in Pond Inlet have been diligent in calling in individuals who they feel are at greatest risk and offering them vaccinations, said Barker. Supplies of the vaccine are readily available at all health centres across the territory.

Pregnant women are being urged to take special precautions.

"It's really important that all pregnant women after 27 weeks pregnant do get the immunization," said Barker.

A tell-tale sign of whooping cough in young children is intense coughing followed by vomiting. A fever is also a sign. Anyone with symptoms should cough in their sleeve, wash their hands often and seek treatment as soon as possible.

Smokers are encouraged to smoke outside and keep a safe distance from others.

"Tobacco smoke does contribute to increased likelihood of infection and of course coughing in the household is more likely to spread because of smoking," Barker said.

Next 3 weeks critical

A  team of health experts from the territorial government is available to support the hamlet with the outbreak, said Barker.

"We are supporting them with our infectious disease team, with our epidemiologists, and also our regional folks are helping out with extra nursing support."

The team is also hosting regular teleconferences with the health staff on site in order to closely monitoring the situation.

The next three weeks are critical to seeing how the outbreak unfolds and if any additional communities are infected.

It is not unusual for an outbreak of whooping cough to surface in Nunavut, said Barker, noting that the disease tends to return in cycles of six to seven years. 

There were 21 confirmed cases in the N.W.T. last year. An outbreak was declared in Yellowknife in November of 2015 and widened to the whole territory in January of 2016. 

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.

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