A whooping cough outbreak has been declared in the Yellowknife and Tlicho regions, the Department of Health and Social Services announced Jan. 15.

Whooping cough, clinically known as pertussis, has been identified in 20 “lab-confirmed” cases, officials said. In December, the department declared an outbreak in the Tlicho region after eight lab-confirmed cases of pertussis were identified.

The illness is highly contagious, blocking lungs and airways due to a bacteria found in the nose, throat and mouth, reads the advisory. Infants and young are most vulnerable to the illness.

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer for the GNWT, and Liliana Canadic, chief operating officer for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, held a news conference Jan. 16 at the Tatsaotı̨̀ne Building in Yellowknife.

Dr.Kami Kandola, chief public health officer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, and Liliana Canadic, chief operating officer for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, held a news conference Thursday morning at the Tatsaotı̨̀ne Building in Yellowknife. The GNWT declared an outbreak of whooping cough in the Yellowknife and Tlicho regions after 20 lab-confirmed cases were identified.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

This week, which is why I declared an outbreak in Yellownife – we have had cases of pertussis in Yellowknife which haven’t been linked to the Tlicho region,” Kandola said, explaining the outbreak in Tlicho is independent of the one in Yellowknife.  

“The pertussis bacteria has circulated independently in Yellowknife. We need to let the entire public know because it is not just confined in the schools. It is now in the public at large.

Kandola said that the outbreak in December had been identified in Whati, but the notice was expanded to the entire Tlicho region because the illness is “highly contagious” and people travel frequently in the region.

She said whooping cough can easily spread in areas where there are large public gatherings, where people live in crowded housing accommodations or where they are traveling frequently.

“What we do know is that it is easily spread by large droplets, coughing and speaking,” said Kandola. “When you are in areas where it’s crowded and lots of people, it can spread easily.”

The GNWT is recommending that people can best “protect themselves and their loved ones” by getting vaccinated. “Residents can protect themselves and their loved ones from pertussis by getting vaccinated,” states the news  release.

“The pertussis-containing vaccine is safe and effective. Since the immunity from the pertussis vaccine may fade over time, an adolescent booster dose is offered in Grade 7 and every 10 years as a result.”

Kandola said the number of confirmed instances is rare for one year as she estimated there have been about 50 cases in the last 10 years. An average year would see no cases in the area, she added.

Metro Huculak, superintendent of the Yk 1 Education District, is hoping to get letters this week to send out to parents to warn of the hazards of whooping cough. He said there are very few cases within the board and that preventative measures exist including vaccinations in the schools and thorough cleaning of areas where the disease is identified.

Vulnerable population

Kandola said that the department is most concerned about those most vulnerable to contracting the disease including those who have not been vaccinated, women in their last three months of pregnancy, infants under one year, and people undergoing cancer treatment.

We’re trying to prevent babies or high risk people from from getting bacterial infections or stop breathing and so that is the main focus now,” she said, noting several times that it is important that people with symptoms to avoid contact with infants and people with weak immune systems.

Wednesday’s advisory notes that pregnant women should get a pertussis-containing vaccine between 27 to 32 weeks into pregnancy “regardless of their last dose.”

Whooping cough symptom information

Kandola said the illness is identified over three stages beginning with signs similar to a common cold over the first 21 days – among them including mild fever, runny nose, red and watery eyes, sneezing and a mild cough.

Residents who believe they have been exposed to people with whooping cough for more than a week are recommended to contact a doctor or health care provider immediately.

“Once the cough starts up to 21 days, if we do a nose swab, we would see viable bacteria that is still able to spread,” she said, noting that samples are sent to Edmonton labs for confirmation within two to three days.

A second stage of violent coughing spells that can last up to eight weeks. 

There is then a “convalescence stage” where the cough can persist thereafter, she said.

School districts

Kandola said the department has been working with the GNWT Department of Education, Culture and Employment to get preventative health information out to parents.

There were school-aged children of the 20 cases,” she said. “Typically, we have been working with ECE in identifying the schools where these students were and providing notices to the parents. That was both in Tlicho and Yellowknife.

Metro Huculak, superintendent of Yk Education District No. 1, said he is aware of “very few” cases in his board, but is not overly concerned. He said he hopes to get a generic letter from the health department that can be sent to all parents to make them aware that there are some cases and what they can do to take precautions with their kids. 

“We have very few cases,” he said, without identifying which school. “If we know that there is a case in a school, we typically have janitorial staff clean the classes and if it involves young kids, clean the toys thoroughly so that it is disinfected and that they are in a clean environment.”

Further information

Further information about pertussis can be found on the Department of Health and Social Services website.

The department also provides information about immunization and vaccination.
Health Canada also has information about whooping cough. 

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

Leave a comment

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.