The pertussis bug is hitting Tofino particularly hard this year and can be fatal for young locals so VIHA is urging parents of West Coast infants

Health officials urge locals to vaccinate infants as whooping cough hits Tofino

Six cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, have been confirmed in Tofino.

A rise in whooping cough has healthcare professionals urging locals to vaccinate their infants.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) has confirmed six cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, in Tofino, according to Central Vancouver Island’s Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback.

“That certainly is not the sort of clustering of disease that we have seen in that area for quite some time,” Hasselback told the Westerly News.

“Typically we probably would be going many years with no cases or just the odd case that comes to our attention, not this sort of cluster where not only are we seeing six cases but we can actually see where one person transmitted to others.”

He said whooping cough is on the rise across Vancouver Island with about 300 cases reported this year.

“The 300 cases this year is the highest we’ve seen in many years,” he said.

“Part of that may relate to a change we made in the vaccine about 15 years ago now and while the newer vaccine has far less side effects it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s giving the same level of longer term protection.

“We’re starting to see more students in the middle grades, before they get their booster (shot) in Grade 9, coming down with it.”

He suggested the disease is little more than an annoyance to most patients but can be fatal to infants.

“For an adult or middle aged child it’s an annoying illness, it’s associated with a persistent cough that can literally go on for weeks,” he said.

“What we’re really concerned about though with pertussis is protecting very young infants from birth through to about one-year of age because, at that age, the tubes going to the lungs don’t cope very well with the infection and rather than having just coughing and coughing fits, they may actually present as having problems breathing and on occasions we’ve had tragic events and we’d so like to avoid them.”

He said the most effective way for locals to keep themselves and their community safe is to stick to their children’s immunization schedules.

“We provide that immunization schedule in the first year of life very specifically to provide protection against pertussis so don’t delay. There’s no value in seeing if you can hold off until an older age; it’s really important, particularly when we start to see pertussis in a community, to be sure those young infants are protected,” he said.

“We give immunization to try to prevent illness in the community so not only are you taking it for your own protection but you’re also helping to protect everyone else in the community so stick to those immunization schedules. Don’t delay, it doesn’t help it actually puts the babies at risk. With infants in particular the outcomes can be tragic and they are preventable.”

He urges anyone showing signs of the illness to get checked out so VIHA can keep close tabs on the bug.

“We will follow up with individuals who may have been exposed to the bug and sometimes we actually recommend individuals get treatment just on the fact they’ve been exposed,” he said.

He assured VIHA would keep a close eye on the situation.

“Every time we have a case, we get involved and follow up to be sure that we can try to contain it as much as possible,” he said.

“In some circumstances we try to prevent the development of illness…that’s where we make recommendations on perhaps taking antibiotics particularly where there’s infants involved.”

andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca