05/03/2016 10:44 EDT | Updated 05/04/2017 01:12 EDT

Alberta Health Services declares whooping cough outbreak at Calgary school

CALGARY — Alberta Health Services has declared an outbreak of whooping cough at a school in Calgary.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is caused by a bacteria that causes severe coughing for weeks and can lead to pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and even death. 

The outbreak is at Waldorf School (515 Cougar Drive S.W.) and AHS will offer opportunities to the school's students to get vaccinated to  reduce risk of further spread of the illness.

There have been 19 cases of pertussis in the Calgary Zone this year, eight of which are linked to the Waldorf School outbreak.

Last year, 59 cases of pertussis were confirmed in the Calgary Zone, and 33 cases were confirmed in the zone in 2014.

Whooping cough starts as a cold with runny nose, sneezing, fever of up to 39.4 C, and mild cough, but the cough becomes more severe with repetitive coughing spells followed by a whooping sound when the child breathes in, and some vomiting.

Older children and adults may experience milder symptoms, such as a prolonged cough and no whoop.

Pertussis can be treated most successfully if caught early.

In Alberta, pertussis immunizations are offered free of charge through Alberta's routine childhood immunization program.

A series of doses is recommended, starting at two months of age, and again at four, six and 18 months; at four to six years; and again in Grade 9.

All individuals 18 years of age and older who have not received a dose of pertussis vaccine since turning 18 years of age are also eligible for one dose of pertussis vaccine. Following this schedule ensures immunization protection is up-to-date.