WINNIPEG — As whooping cough wheezes back to life, the province is pushing free jabs to boost vaccination rates against the disease.
In a release on Thursday that could send tens of thousands of Manitobans scrambling for an appointment with their doctor, Manitoba Health advised that all adults who have regular contact with children be vaccinated against the bacterial infection pertussis, better known as whooping cough. This is especially true for parents or caregivers of babies under two months old.
Thirteen cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in Manitoba in 2012. One patient, a baby less than one year old, died from the disease.
While the total number of cases isn’t unusually high — Manitoba averaged 37 cases of whooping cough annually over the last decade — it’s the first time in five years that the province has seen a fatal case.
“That for us is important,” said Dr. Richard Rusk, Manitoba’s medical officer of health for infectious diseases. “This is supposed to be a conquered disease, but it’s not anymore. Clearly we need to promote the recognition that it is the community that actually protects the children.”
Only about 68 per cent of Manitobans have immunity to whooping cough. That’s far below the rate that medical experts consider ideal, and far below the roughly 92 to 94 per cent needed for what is called “herd immunity,” or the point where a virus or bacteria has trouble gaining a foothold in a community.
To help boost protection rates in Manitoba, the province recently made the modern pertussis vaccine free to eligible adults. The vaccine, which made its debut for children in 1997, is more effective than the one most Manitoba adults would have received when they were young.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Rusk said that while Manitobans don’t have to race to get the jab, he did recommend that they speak to a primary care physician at their next checkup. The pertussis vaccine also comes combined with a tetanus booster.
Other than that, Rusk advised keeping an eye on cold symptoms that last longer than a week, or come with a pronounced cough, and always practise good hand-washing and hygiene.
News of the advisory did raise questions in the child-care community on Thursday. Child-care providers in Manitoba are not required to follow a specific vaccination regime, Manitoba Child Care Association executive director Pat Wege noted, so the news could see a rush of child-care workers and other caregivers looking to determine their vaccination status.
“Things come up when you work in a child-care environment,” she said. “We do appreciate the directive from the province that lets people know what to watch for. Caregivers are already skilled in terms of the prevention of infection, such as with handwashing, so they will just be more mindful.”
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 3, 2012