Island Health says pertussis has been on Gabriola

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, December 20 2016

A notice sent out to parents prompted the Sounder to ask Island Health (VIHA) if Pertussis (whooping cough) has been confirmed on Gabriola.

Valerie Wilson, Communications Manager with VIHA as well as Dr. Paul Hasselback, VIHA Medical Health Officer for Central Vancouver Island answered the Sounder’s queries.

According to Wilson, “Gabriola is one of many communities that we have been aware of some pertussis activity. Ongoing disease activity reinforces the need in all communities to remain vigilant for symptoms and ensure immunizations are up to date for children.”

Dr. Hasselback said he could confirm there have been cases of pertussis on Gabriola in 2016.

He did not specify how many cases were confirmed or the dates on when they were confirmed, saying, “Where we have small numbers of cases and confidentiality of cases cannot be protected, we will not release numbers.”

Pertussis is a serious infection of the airways that can affect people of all ages.

Pertussis in infants can cause complications such as pneumonia, seizures, brain damage or even death. According to HealthLink BC, one to three deaths due to pertussis occur in Canada each year, mostly in babies less than three months of age, who have not been immunized.

The pertussis vaccine is administered in combination with other vaccines such as diphtheria, polio and tetanus. 

Four years ago, a rash of pertussis cases was found on Gabriola. Between December 2012 and February 2013, 26 of the 52 confirmed cases in the VIHA Central Island area were on Gabriola.

At that time, Dr. Hasselback had said the pertussis vaccine is what drives the immunization schedule for children.

Pertussis easily spreads through coughing and sneezing. Initial symptoms are similar to the common cold and include sneezing, runny nose, mild fever and a mild cough. Over the next two weeks, the cough worsens leading to severe, repeated and forceful coughing fits. These often end with a whooping sound before the next breath. People may also have difficulty breathing.

People with pertussis are contagious a few days before a cough begins and up to 3 weeks after. If antibiotics are administered, people may still be contagious for up to five days after. The cough can persist for several weeks to a few months.

Adults who wish to purchase the vaccine themselves can do so from vaccinating pharmacists or through the Nanaimo Travel Clinic. Island Pharmacy in Folklife Village on Gabriola can order the pertussis vaccine and administer it if an adult wants it. The pharmacy can be contacted at 250-247-8310.

Dr. Hasselback said there is a Child Health Clinic scheduled at the Gabriola Community Health Centre on Church Street for December 23, and a Child Health Clinic at the HOPE Centre on January 6.

There are also infant vaccination clinics in Nanaimo, which can be booked through VIHA Public Health at 250-755-3342.