Fraser Health has expanded its whooping cough alert as the bacterial infection continues to head west from the eastern Fraser Valley to include its whole region, from Hope to Surrey.
Its public health office is urging adults and youth who are in regular contact with young children, including pregnant women and their partners, to see their doctor or a participating pharmacist and get the free whooping cough vaccine.
"We have seen transmission of cases in Maple Ridge, in Langley, in Surrey and in Mission," said Dr. Paul Van Buynder, Fraser Health's Chief Medical Health Officer.
Since health officials have seen evidence of transmission including a child from outside Fraser East, they decided to expand the response to incorporate the whole of the Fraser Valley, he said.
Since early December Fraser Health has recorded more than 140 suspected or confirmed cases of whooping cough reported in Fraser Health. Many more likely go unreported.
Cases were initially confined mostly to the eastern Fraser Valley communities of Hope, Chilliwack and Harrison/ Agassiz, but recently cases have been reported in several other Fraser Health communities, raising concern that the outbreak is spreading.
Whooping cough is a very contagious disease that causes severe coughing that may last for months.
It can begin with common cold symptoms, but can develop into a very serious illness in young children and babies, who have small airways.
The violent coughing can cause a child to gag or vomit or stop breathing for a short period of time. It can last up to two months, and often becomes more troublesome at night.
More than half of infants less than one year of age who get whooping cough must be hospitalized and in some cases, it is life-threatening.
"The best protection against whooping cough is to get vaccinated," said Buynder. "The booster shot is especially important for those who have or expect to have close contact with infants and young children. The vaccine that most people get when they are children only offers protection for four to 10 years so there are many adults without adequate coverage."
Fraser Health encourages parents to ensure their children are fully immunized. Early diagnosis and treatment will help prevent the spread of the illness to those most at risk.
Free vaccine is available through doctors' offices and participating pharmacies for all adults and youth who have not had a whooping cough booster in the past five years and who are in regular contact with young children.
A list of immunizing pharmacies can be found at www.fraserhealth.ca/whoopingcough.
To check your child's immunization records and make an appointment, if needed for childhood immunizations, contact your local health unit during regular business hours, Monday to Friday, 8: 30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m.