Nunavut could see whooping cough outbreak end 'within the next few months'

Nunavut's chief medical health officer says the territory is seeing 'a handful' of cases instead of dozens in communities where the territory's whooping cough outbreak has spread.

While new communities are affected, fewer people in each are getting sick

Though Nunavut's whooping cough outbreak has spread to Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet, health officials say there are fewer cases of the virus in those communities.

There were dozens of cases in communities earlier on, said  Nunavut's chief medical health officer, Dr. Kim Barker, pointing to the example of Hall Beach, where 36 people fell ill this summer.

There were a total of eight cases diagnosed in Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet. Since the outbreak began in May, a total of 147 cases have been detected in 11 communities.

"I'm relieved to see the number of people per community that are getting infected is going down," said Barker.

The department of health is satisfied with immunization rates in Nunavut, but there are questions are the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine.

"This vaccine has been around for a few years, but what we are learning about it though, is that perhaps, the length of time that one is protected for is slightly lower than what we had seen with the previous vaccine," Barker said.

The previous vaccine had some more serious side effects, said Barker, "which is why we're happy to stick with this one. We're just trying to determine how long the protection period lasts post vaccination."

There are still concerns about the infection spreading to more new communities, including into Northwest Territories. Barker said she is "sure they are keeping a close eye on this too."

To address the whooping cough outbreak, Nunavut mimicked the N.W.T. vaccination program for school children, moving the targeted age from Grade 9 to Grade 6 (and immunizing the grades in between to get them caught up). Barker said the departments on track to have all of the students vaccinated by Christmas holidays.

"I'm comfortable that the current approach that we are taking will be sufficient for us to see an end to this outbreak, I would say within the next few months," she said.

Barker does have a request for people gearing up to travel for Christmas.

"It's always a concern with travel, which is why we are really encouraging people to check their vaccination status before flying anywhere especially ... over the busy holiday season."

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