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New Concern Over Whooping Cough in Ontario

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 29 in the September 12, 2012 issue of The Mississauga News
under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is making a stir in Ontario this year. It is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis.

Pertussis is a respiratory disease and is highly contagious, but the most serious risk is to infants. Adults remain the source of spread. Not everyone exposed to a sneeze or droplet develops the disease or characteristic whoop type cough.

Most of us are immune, which we acquired by the first series of vaccination programs in the province, and others got immunity by being exposed to it in the past.

Pertussis begins as a mild cough, sore throat and feeling run down, similar to a 100 other things. The difference becomes obvious in a couple of weeks when the severity of cough increases, and it becomes almost violent followed by a high pitched whoop as you struggle to breathe air in. Infants often vomit afterwards. A special testing swab is taken to confirm the diagnosis. The disease is treatable and responds to antibiotics when given early. The natural course is for the cough to slowly dissolve and full recovery to take place. Babies with other problems can struggle and succumb to this illness.

We rarely saw this disease in Ontario over the last few decades. The main reason is that Pertussis is one of the first vaccines we administer to newborns. It is given in several doses over time to ensure immunity.

New concerns have emerged as over 240 new cases of the disease have been reported in Southern Ontario from November 2011 to July 2012. The exact cause is not certain. Some have suggested that the vaccine has failed, yet others suggest that not enough adults are immune and continue to spread it. For the latter reason, Ontario has expanded its vaccination program to include Pertussis vaccine in the Tetanus vaccine. Essentially, when you receive a tetanus booster in Ontario, you are now getting immunity to Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus, which is a very good thing and should be encouraged.

If you don't remember ever getting a tetanus booster as a teenager or cannot remember getting a Tetanus shot in the last 10-15 years, it is available at your local doctor's office.

Related resources:

Whooping cough making a comeback in southwestern Ontario by Shawne McKeown, CityNews.ca, July 27, 2012.

Whooping cough surge in adults threatens babies. CBC News, Posted: July 24, 2012.

Whooping cough making a comeback: Adults urged to get vaccine by Penelope Overton, Republican-American, September 9, 2012.

Let's halt whooping cough's comeback by Linda Charping, Public Health, BlueRidgeNow.com. September 5, 2012.

Comeback of a deadly disease, and where we went wrong by Andre Picard, Globe and Mail, July 23, 2012. "There have been more than 18,000 cases of whooping cough reported in the United States so far this year, and nine deaths. Winter, when respiratory illnesses hit hardest, is yet to come, so they will likely far surpass the record 40,000 cases back in '59."

Whooping cough makes deadly return across Canada by Caroline Alphonso, Globe and Mail, July 23, 2012. "A highly contagious bacterial disease is spreading in four provinces, infecting as many as 2,000 people with a violent, uncontrollable cough and killing an infant in Alberta, as public-health authorities scramble to boost their vaccination programs.

British Columbia's Fraser Valley, southern Alberta, parts of Southwestern Ontario and New Brunswick are dealing with severe outbreaks of a disease that was once on the wane - pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, which can be especially deadly if contracted by infants. The United States, meanwhile, appears headed for its worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades, with more than 18,000 cases reported so far."

Whooping Cough Makes a Comeback by Paula Span, New York Times, August 1, 2012.

Ontarians Reminded To Get Fully Immunized Against Whooping Cough from Newsroom, Government of Ontario, July 26, 2012. "Dr. Arlene King, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, is reminding Ontarians to get immunized against pertussis, also known as whooping cough. There have been recent outbreaks of pertussis in Southwestern Ontario with approximately 240 cases reported since November 2011."

Quick Facts:
• Individuals get vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio and hemophilus influenza B in infancy and early childhood.

• Adolescents receive the publicly funded tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine between 14 to 16 years of age.

• The publicly funded immunization program was expanded in 2011 to provide another dose of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine to adults between the ages of 19 and 64.

Latest Whooping Cough News, Photos and Videos from ABC News.

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