HALIFAX – Nova Scotia health officials are issuing a warning about a sudden spike in pertussis, or whooping cough, cases across the province.
So far in 2015, there have been 85 confirmed cases of the highly-contagious disease.
According to provincial surveillance reports, this is the highest number of cases confirmed since 2004. There were 11 cases reported last year, and only 4 cases in 2013.
“We usually see a small number of cases in a province the size of Nova Scotia, maybe a handful,” said the province’s deputy chief medical officer of health, Dr. Frank Atherton.
“Pertussis is one of those diseases where we have cyclical peaks in cases and this year we’re certainly seeing that.”
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing that may last for months and is known by its distinctive coughing-induced high-pitched noise that sounds like a “whoop.”
It is spread through droplets, such as coughing or sneezing, and mostly affects children.
The province has sent a letter to all physicians in the province alerting them to the spike in cases and reminding them to make sure patients are up to date with vaccinations.
“We’re always concerned when we have a spike in communicable diseases,” Atherton said. “It rings alarm bells and we watch what’s happening and we watch very closely.”
Physician Dr. Howard Conter said he hasn’t seen a whooping cough case in his practice this year, but he has noticed more people asking about the vaccine.
“In fact, if we had everyone immunized we shouldn’t see so (many cases),” he said. “To see a large cohort like that is a little bit concerning and hopefully it doesn’t continue to spread.”
In July, the Nova Scotia Health Authority-Central Zone was concerned about the number of cases that were presenting in the province, which was 15 at the time.
Dr. Robin Taylor, the medical officer of health for the zone, told Global News at the time that she believed part of the problem was that adults were not getting their follow-up booster shots.
“I’m concerned adults may not realize that their booster shot for whooping cough has run out of protection for them and they probably need an update,” she said.
In Nova Scotia, children receive five doses of the whooping cough vaccination, then get a booster in Grade 7. It’s recommended that adults follow up on those boosters after the age of 18.
Young children, pregnant women and the elderly are at high risk of contracting whooping cough, and transmission tends to be higher during the cold winter months.
Naomi Harper, the mother of a six-month old baby boy, said she is paying particular attention to the disease after a recent trip to Moncton. Medical officials there confirmed an outbreak of whooping cough earlier this month.
“We were near Moncton and we heard about the outbreak there so it’s definitely something we’re keeping an eye on,” Harper said.
“With a small child you’re definitely more concerned than when it’s just you. We’re definitely being careful to make sure he gets all his vaccinations and that we’re protecting him and other children he’s around.”