Cases of pertussis – whooping cough – at a South Surrey high school has prompted health officials to bump up the schedule for providing the booster shot at the school.
Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma confirmed Monday that students in Grade 8 and 9 at Semiahmoo Secondary would be offered the vaccine Thursday (Dec. 1) and again on Dec. 6 as a result of multiple confirmed reports of the infection at the school over the past four to five weeks.
The booster is typically given in Grade 9.
“Because the transmission is happening in (Grade 8 students), we’re going to do it early,” Juma said.
A letter distributed Nov. 9 advises Grade 8 parents and guardians to watch for signs and symptoms of the illness, which is most dangerous to women in the early stages of pregnancy, as well as infants younger than one year old.
Juma said she is not aware of similar outbreaks in other Surrey schools. She said privacy concerns prevent disclosing how many cases have been reported in Semi students so far, however, one area resident told Peace Arch News the number is “in the double-digits.”
The highly contagious condition is a bacterial infection of the lining of the respiratory tract that is spread through sneezing and coughing. Unlike influenza, which generally rears its head from fall through early spring, It can appear at any time of the year.
In infected individuals, the coughing may become so bad that is makes a person gag or throw up.
“It can lead to, obviously, issues with breathing,” Juma said. “It can be very dangerous to infants, particularly.”
A publicly funded vaccine is offered for children at age two, four, six and 18 months of age, as well as when they enter kindergarten, and again in Grade 9.
A booster is recommended in adulthood, but is not publicly funded.
Juma said the vaccine is being recommended for Semi students who do not have a “lab-confirmed” pertussis diagnosis.
The steps being taken would be the same at any site where a series of cases are identified, she added.
A Nov. 1 notice to health care providers on Fraser Health’s website notes an increase in pertussis reports has been seen “across Fraser Health region over the past two months.”
The most recent letter advising of a pertussis case at Semi was sent to parents on Nov. 22. Juma said Fraser Health will continue to monitor the situation until “two full cycles” have passed – the incubation period is seven to 21 days – without a new case.
Without antibiotics, the germs can be spread for up to three weeks after the coughing starts. In addition to coughing spells, symptoms include fever, watery eyes, runny nose and not wanting to eat.