Surge in whooping cough cases in Montreal

"Adults can absolutely get it,” says Dr. Earl Rubin, division director, pediatric infectious diseases at the Montreal Children's Hospital, of whooping cough. The city has had 76 cases this year - up to June 10. Johanie Bouffard reports.

By Johanie Bouffard

Quebec is seeing an increase in whooping cough cases, and surge in Montreal.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. 

Health authorities are calling on parents to be vigilant to prevent spread. Deaths associated with whooping cough are rare, but most commonly occur in infants.

Montreal saw a spike in the number of cases recently. There were 57 confirmed cases this year, until June 3. The latest numbers show 76 cases up until June 10.

In 2023, there were only 14 total whooping cough cases for the city of Montreal.

Since the start of 2024 (until of June 14), 2,409 confirmed and 490 probable cases of whooping cough have been reported for the entire province – according to the Health Ministry. Thirty-two confirmed cases and eight probable cases have occurred in children under one year of age. No deaths have been reported.

“We see cycles of spikes anywhere from two to five years where the numbers will go up. I believe the last time in Quebec was 2019, so there’s a little bit of a delay more on the five year end, probably because of the pandemic. But it’s not normal, it’s not what we want to see, but it is what we do see,” said Dr. Earl Rubin, division director for pediatric infectious diseases at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Once you become infected with whooping cough, it takes about seven to 10 days for signs and symptoms to appear, though it can sometimes take longer. It can seem like a common cold, with a runny nose, nasal congestion, red, watery eyes, fever, and cough.

Before a vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease.

“In fact, adults and adolescents are probably the source where they pass it on to vulnerable kids. And that’s a function that we have a vaccine, it’s a good vaccine, but unfortunately there is waning immunity with time. And even with having disease, there’s waning immunity. But those who may have had disease or vaccine, adults can absolutely get it, but hopefully they don’t get as severe disease as young babies”, said Dr. Rubin.

Experts say that it’s important for pregnant women — and other people who will have close contact with an infant — to be vaccinated against whooping cough.

“The kids who die with about a 1% fatality rate are newborns under three months of age. So the first recommendation would be to follow for every woman who is pregnant in her third trimester to get that vaccine. Even if they have a child every one to two years, they should get that because they’ll form antibodies which will pass over the placenta and protect the newborn. So that’s the first thing. Vaccines in general should be up to date for the kids. Some have missed because of the pandemic, it’s an important time to bring that up to date,” added Dr. Rubin.

In Quebec, there are between 240 and 1,600 cases of whooping cough every year. And it peaks approximately every four years – the last was in 2019 with 1,269 cases.

The number of cases reported in 2020 and 2021 was lower (388 cases and 20 cases respectively), which may be attributable to the health measures in force in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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