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Whooping cough cases are rising on Vancouver Island

Immunization rates need to rise
With an increasing number of cases of whooping cough in the Victoria area schools, VIHA officials are urging parents to vaccinate their children.

A case of pertussis (whooping cough) has been diagnosed in an elementary school student in Sooke.

The student, who cannot be identified for privacy reasons, is enrolled in an elementary school in Sooke where the principal was notified of the situation last week by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).

While the student will not be attending the school until they recover, school administration took the precautionary measures of disinfecting handrails and doorknobs.

They also got busy cleaning and disinfecting other areas of the school where the pertussis bacteria may have been deposited.

It’s a situation that troubles VIHA medical health officer, Dr. Dee Hoyana.

“It is our protocol to inform the school as soon as we are aware of a case of pertussis. Because of the nature of the disease, the protocol is that doctors and, more commonly, labs where tests to confirm the disease are conducted, are required to contact us (VIHA) when it is detected.

We then make contact with schools and other agencies (like nursing homes) so they can take appropriate measures to protect others.” said Hoyana.

“There have been a number of cases in Victoria schools but this is the first I know of in Sooke.”

The reason for the high degree of caution regarding pertussis is related to the nature of the disease.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection.

While the disease was thought of as a childhood disease prior to the development of a vaccine, it now primarily affects children too young to have had the full course of vaccinations or older adults whose immunity has faded and who have not received a booster shot in adulthood.

While deaths from pertussis are rare, they do occur, primarily in infants and older adults.

Worldwide, there are about 400,000 deaths annually and deaths have occurred in Canada.

“We’ve seen 88 cases of whooping cough on Vancouver Island in 2017, and the number keeps rising and Victoria and surrounding areas have seen the bulk of those cases,” said Hoyano.

“About 76 per cent of our local population is protected by vaccination, but we would like to see that number considerably higher. We’d also suggest that adults get a booster shot to ensure their protection.”

The American Centre for Disease Control has published material saying that pertussis is more likely to occur when immunization rates fall below 80 per cent and that the desirable rate of immunization is 94 per cent (some immune compromised individuals cannot receive the vaccine).

Hoyana acknowledges that part of the challenge regarding diseases like whooping cough (measles fall in the same category) is the mistaken belief that the vaccines can cause harm to those receiving them.

She regrets that there is a lot of false information being distributed, primarily through on-line sites and social media, with no scientific basis in fact.

“We know that vaccination is our best preventative strategy. It’s safe, and that’s just a fact. Anyone with questions about the safety of vaccines should talk to their family doctor or a medical professional. If you must get your information on-line, go to and get the real information on the issue.”