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04/25/2019 16:43 EDT | Updated 04/25/2019 16:43 EDT

Whooping Cough Outbreak In New Brunswick Has Officials Urging Vaccination

Pertussis, or whooping cough, can be severe in kids and fatal in babies.

Steve Debenport via Getty Images
Whooping cough has been spreading in New Brunswick.

Officials are once again urging Canadians to get vaccinated, but not just for measles.

On Wednesday, health officials in New Brunswick declared a whooping cough outbreak in Fredericton after 12 cases have been discovered since January, 10 of them in children. The affected kids are ages six to 12, regional medical officer of health Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey said in a news conference, according to CBC News.

Lamptey noted the highly contagious illness can cause "severe disease" in young children, and can be fatal in infants. She urged people to make sure they have all their necessary vaccinations, as some of the affected kids hadn't received their pre-school booster, CBC reported.

"Fortunately, I'm pleased to say we have not had any hospitalizations," Lamptey said.

WATCH: What is whooping cough, and why is it making a comeback? Story continues below

The main symptom of whooping cough, or pertussis, is severe coughing that may be followed "whoop" sound before the next breath, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS). It usually starts out with a cold, at which point the person is already contagious.

Germs in the throat and lungs make it difficult to clear mucus, which can cause children to cough so hard they can crack ribs and have trouble breathing, and babies to stop breathing altogether, CPS explains on its website. Babies can experience seizures. And about one in 400 babies with whooping cough will die, the society added.

"It is most dangerous for children under one-year-old, especially if they are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. It is important that you and your children receive all of your vaccinations for protection of yourself and others," Health Canada notes on its website.

Between 1,000 to 3,000 Canadians get whooping cough each year, the agency adds.

Whooping cough outbreak

The outbreak in Fredericton comes on the heels of another in Moncton, N.B. There, at least five students at one high school were diagnosed with whooping cough in March, Global News reports. Up to 30 per cent of students in that region hadn't received their adolescent booster dose of the vaccine, Dr. Yves A. Léger, the Medical Officer of Health in New Brunswick's east region, told Global News.

In November, Saskatchewan health officials issued warnings after 24 cases of whooping cough were reported in just over a month in communities surrounding Saskatoon.

"Over the last few years, we keep seeing these outbreaks, local outbreaks, here and there, and most of those are related to insufficient coverage, so not enough parents immunizing their babies," Dr. Volker Gerdts, director and CEO at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre), located at the University of Saskatchewan, told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

People should be vaccinating

In Canada, children under age six need five doses of the whooping cough vaccine, starting at age two months, Health Canada notes. CPS adds that children need a booster in adolescence, usually around Grade 9, and adults should have one in their adult years.

BSIP via Getty Images
A teen is injected with Repevax, a vaccination for diphtheria, polio and pertussis.

The vaccine doesn't work as well as others, CPS said, but it's still important to get it.

"Those who have been vaccinated and still get pertussis will have a much milder disease than those who have not been vaccinated," CPS said on its website.

"If you are in regular contact with an infant, it is very important to be immunized. If you require a booster vaccine, make sure to get it at least two weeks before being in contact with the baby," Health Canada said.

Canada lags in measles vaccination rates: UNICEF

Meanwhile, an alarming number of Canadian children are not vaccinated against measles, outbreaks of which have been surging around the world this year. There have been 39 cases in Canada so far in 2019, according to Health Canada.

On Wednesday, UNICEF released a report that 287,000 Canadian children did not receive their first vaccine dose between 2010 to 2017. This places Canada seventh on the list of top high-income countries where children weren't vaccinated for measles between those years.

The U.S. topped the UNICEF list, with 2.6 million unvaccinated kids.

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