No whoop necessary

Whooping cough outbreak continues, present in two Moose Jaw schools

Moose Jaw’s outbreak of whooping cough is nothing new, but the return to school has shed new light on it.

Palliser Heights School and one other school in Moose Jaw have confirmed cases, though health officials could not say how many for confidentiality reasons.

“What happened is that school is back in session, so if children are symptomatic, we begin to find more,” said Dr. Lanre Medu of the Five Hills Health Authority public health branch on Monday. “So it’s not a new occurrence, it’s just a case that we did find. We know it’s been around and we are taking care of it.”

An outbreak, according to Medu, is when there are more occurrences of a disease than expected. For something like whooping cough, also known as Pertussis, the ideal expectation is zero.

There have been 50 cases since the beginning of this year, including people with coughs living with someone who has tested positive for actual whooping cough.

For adults and older children, the cough can be inconvenient and distressing. For people with other conditions that give them chest-pain, coughing will aggravate that and cause that much more pain. Medu said more dramatic presentations, like coughing to the point of rupturing blood vessels, are uncommon, but the disease can be dangerous and even fatal to infants and small children. Whooping cough can make young children cough so much they can no longer breathe.

Medu said the sickness usually presents as a runny nose that looks like a simple cold, followed by a slight fever for the first week or two. This is then followed by the distinctive cough, for which the illness is named. That cough, however, can be tricky.

“In most instances, you don’t hear the whoop,” Medu said. “When you hear the whoop, you know. But more often than not, you don’t find the whoop, you find it mainly by testing.”

Such was the case for mother Jackie Schneider, whose two children have been diagnosed with whopping cough.

Last Monday, her oldest child developed a cough and she heard what may have been a whoop. Her youngest had been coughing for four or five days, but nothing cause undue concern.

“As soon as I hear anything that could sound like croup or a whoop, I take them in and I get them swabbed,” she told the Times-Herald on Monday. “You just never know, and I think it’s good practice.”

The following day, she and her children saw a doctor, who took samples for testing. Schneider was told it was likely nothing, and the family went on with their normal lives. On Monday morning, however, she got the call saying the tests had come back positive.

“I was really surprised that they had it, because they’re not sick,” she said, adding that people had been scoffing at her all week, saying she was being overprotective. “They have a cough, that’s it. Everything that anybody has ever told me about whooping cough is incorrect.”

Schneider’s mother-in-law, Louise Svingen, is a registered nurse. She said her main concern is that parents don’t keep their children home when they have a runny nose or a slight cough, just like adults still go to work when they are only feeling a little ill. She does, however, also worry about the reaction people have in the community.

“People are so misinformed and fearful, that they tend to shun you or ostracize you, or even bully you when they find you have a condition like this,” she said. “Nobody is intentionally trying to make someone else sick. Until it happens it you, or someone close to you, you don’t realize how hurtful that is.”

Schneider agreed, adding that confusing, unhelpful, and downright incorrect advice is so prevalent that it’s hard to sort through it all.

“You get lots of misinformation from everywhere when things like this happen. My first suggestion would be to call public health,” she said, noting that the worker she called Monday morning spent more than an hour on the phone with her, answering every single question. “I think there needs to be more education about whooping cough.”

Medu said parents should make sure their children are up to date with their vaccines, make sure to go to the doctor if their children present with symptoms, and if it’s confirmed, keep them home until they complete their antibiotic treatment. That treatment lasts five days, afterwhich the patient will no longer be infectious. If no medication is taken, then that period stretches to 21 days.

“One of the other things that would help to reduce the infection and reduce transmission is when a person receives a vaccination,” he said, adding that the sickness can present in some cases, even if the person has been vaccinated, but is then usually less severe.