According to Northern Health, there are two laboratory-confirmed cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in Burns Lake, including a student at Lakes District Secondary School (LDSS).
Last week, LDSS students were sent home with a letter from Northern Health warning parents that their child may have been in contact with a case of pertussis.
Pertussis is a contagious disease of the lungs and throat, caused by a bacterium found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person. The disease is spread when the sick person coughs or sneezes the germ into the air, where other people can breathe it in.
Manu Madhok, Spokesperson for School District No. 91 (Nechako Lakes), said that in addition to sending students home with a letter, the school district followed an internal flu protocol to thoroughly clean LDSS last week.
“This is an enhanced cleaning, developed in consultation with Northern Health, specific to these types of situations,” he explained.
According Madhok, no other schools within School District No. 91 have seen cases or pertussis so far this year.
As per provincial health protocols, the school district follows instructions from Northern Health when there is a diagnosis of a potentially contagious infection.
Jonathon Dyck, Northern Health Spokesperson, said that although Northern B.C. has seen an increase in the number of pertussis cases this year, the situation is not considered an outbreak.
“It’s what we would expect at this time of the year,” said Dyck.
Back in August 2015, Alberta Health Services declared a pertussis outbreak in Northern Alberta. While Northern Alberta usually sees 40 to 50 cases over an entire year, as of Aug. 26, 2015, there were 182 laboratory-confirmed cases of pertussis.
“Northern Health has been closely monitoring the situation in Northern Alberta,” said Dyck. “We have a lot of people in Northeast B.C. travelling to Alberta, so we want to make sure that we’re pro-active in promoting safety precautions.”
According to Northern Health, the best way to protect your children against pertussis is to get them immunized.
The pertussis vaccine is part of the normal childhood vaccinations that are given at two months, four months, six months, and 18 months old, and again at age four and six. A pertussis vaccine is also given to teens at 14 to 16 years of age in B.C.
“Parents should also consider it [the vaccine] for themselves,” said Dyck.
Early symptoms of pertussis are like those of a cold – sneezing, runny nose, a low fever and a mild cough. But over the next week or two, the cough gets worse leading to longer spells of coughing that often end with a whoop or crowing sound when the person breathes in. The coughing may be so bad that it makes a person gag or throw up. Sometimes a thick, clear mucous is spat out.
According to HealthLink B.C., a person who has pertussis and does not get treated can spread the germs to others for up to three weeks after the coughing spells start.
An early diagnosis of pertussis and the treatment with antibiotics right away will help prevent you from spreading the disease to those that are at the most risk from the disease – infants less than one year of age, and pregnant women in the last three months of pregnancy.
Northern Health encourages parents to call HealthLink B.C. at 811 if they suspect someone in their family is experiencing symptoms of pertussis. Nurses are available to answer questions about symptoms and provide guidance seven days a week.