Manitoba Health advises that a cluster of whooping cough (pertussis) has now been declared as an outbreak in Southern Health-Santé Sud, as cases continue to be reported. As of June 23, 154 confirmed or probable cases have been reported to Manitoba Health since January, with 152 of them reported from Southern Health-Santé Sud.

The age range of cases includes:

  • 30 infants aged one year or younger;
  • 80 cases in children aged one to nine;
  • 24 cases in children aged 10 to 19; and
  • 20 cases in adults.

The outbreak includes 78 female and 76 male cases and has resulted in 55 related visits to emergency departments and two admissions to pediatric intensive care. No deaths have been reported.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable illness. It is caused by a bacteria, usually spread through respiratory droplets in the air when coughing or sneezing, and is most contagious during the initial stages of illness. Initially, symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, and usually show up seven to 10 days after being exposed. The illness often starts with a mild fever, runny nose and a cough. It can lead to serious coughing fits that can last for one to 10 weeks. The coughing fits may cause difficulty breathing, choking and vomiting. Infants may also have poor feeding.

Whooping cough can affect people of all ages, but infants aged one year or younger are at greatest risk of severe complications, including periods of stalled breathing, pneumonia, seizures, brain swelling and death. Pregnant people in their third trimester are also at higher risk.

The vaccine is safe and effective. Immunization is the best way to prevent infection, reduce the risk of severe symptoms, and to help limit the spread. The vaccines that protect against whooping cough are part of Manitoba’s recommended routine childhood immunization schedule. Children should be immunized at two, four, six and 18 months, between the ages of four and six, and in Grade 8 to 9 for the best protection. A whooping cough vaccine is also recommended for pregnant people in every pregnancy.

Public health officials recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted routine health care, including immunizations. To help reconnect, Manitoba Health sent follow-up letters to parents and caregivers of children born in 2019, 2020 and 2021 who may be missing routine childhood immunizations. These letters were mailed earlier this month, provincewide.

In Southern Health-Santé Sud, health-care providers and public health teams are continuing to build relationships with families following service disruptions and other effects of the pandemic. It continues to reach out directly to families to determine if they have questions, need information, or face any barriers to immunization. Public health offices have offered evening clinic appointments and additional appointment slots to make immunizations more convenient and accessible for families. Posters have been distributed to child-care facilities in the region, encouraging families to reach out to public health to ensure children are up to date on immunizations.

Parents, caregivers and pregnant people who are uncertain or have questions or concerns about immunizations are encouraged to speak to their health-care provider or public health office. More information is also available by calling Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257 (toll-free).

People who have symptoms of whooping cough should see their health-care provider. Infected individuals may be prescribed antibiotics and should stay home and avoid close contact with others until treatment is completed. This can help prevent further spread of infection.

Whooping cough is a reportable disease in Manitoba. The number of cases reported varies from year to year, and typically peaks every two to five years. For a group of cases to be considered an outbreak, there must be a higher number of cases reported in a specific area than is expected over a specific period of time.