Pertussis outbreak declared in South Zone

January 26, 2023

LETHBRIDGE – Alberta Health Services (AHS) has declared an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in the central part of the South Zone and is reminding all people of the importance of immunization, particularly in small children, to prevent further illness.

Communities impacted at this time involve those spanning the County of Lethbridge, Coaldale, Taber, Vauxhall, Grassy Lake and Bow Island. These are communities with significantly low childhood immunization rates. By age two, children should have received four doses of pertussis- vaccine, and in some of these areas only one -third of two-year-old children have.  

Pertussis is a bacterial infection that causes severe and prolonged coughing that lasts for weeks. It can impact people of all ages, however, infants one year and younger are at greatest risk of serious complications, including pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death.

Pertussis illness starts with a runny nose, sneezing, fever, and mild cough. Typically, over the duration of a week, the cough will become more severe with repetitive coughing spells. In younger children, these coughing spells are usually followed by a ‘whooping’ sound when inhaling. Vomiting following a coughing spell is also common.

Recently, 16 cases of pertussis have been identified in the South Zone, all locally acquired. Of these, three individuals required hospitalization.

Immunization is the best method to protect against and limit the spread of pertussis, along with regular hand washing and remembering not to share drinks, food, or cutlery. Pertussis immunization is safe and effective against preventing severe illness. In Alberta, it is free for all children less than 18 years of age, people who are in the third trimester of pregnancy (27 weeks), and adults who have not had a tetanus booster in the past 10 years.

All South Zone residents are reminded to stay up to date on their immunizations. Individuals uncertain of their child’s or their own immunization history can contact their local community health centre or public health office. See Alberta’s Routine Childhood Immunization schedule for more information.

If an individual thinks they may be sick with pertussis, they should stay home and call a family physician or Health Link at 811, before seeking medical care. People with confirmed pertussis should stay home until five days of treatment with appropriate antibiotics have been completed.

Additional information on pertussis and immunizations can be found online at the following links:

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Our mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans. Our current focus is on reducing emergency department wait-times, improving EMS response times, increasing access to surgeries, and improving patient flow.