Fraser Health officials are urging residents of the eastern Fraser Valley to protect themselves against whooping cough.
Since August, more than 80 cases of the contagious disease, also called pertussis, have been reported in the Hope region, and cases are now being found in the Agassiz-Harrison area as well.
"The best protection against pertussis is to get vaccinated," said Paul Van Buynder, Fraser Health's chief medical health officer. "Pertussis in very young children can lead to hospitalization and even death."
Whooping cough can be a severe illness in people without adequate immunization, and many adults are not protected because the vaccine they got as children is only effective for four to 10 years.
Early symptoms of pertussis are like those of a cold with sneezing, a runny nose, a low fever and a mild cough, but over a week or two, the cough gets worse, leading to longer spells of coughing that often end with a whoop or crowing sound when the person breathes in.
The coughing may be so bad that it makes a person gag or throw up. Sometimes a thick, clear mucous is spit out. This cough can last up to a month or two and happens more at night.
Fraser Health is urging parents to ensure their children are fully immunized and is offering free booster vaccine to adults who are in regular contact with young children in Hope, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Chilliwack.
Adults who have not had a booster in the last five years are asked to contact their local health unit, their doctor or health care provider to receive the free vaccine.
Vaccination clinics have been running in the Hope area for the past two weeks and will be expanded to Agassiz on January 19.
Vaccination clinics will start in Chilliwack the week of January 23.
In the meantime, children who develop cold-like symptoms that look like pertussis should be examined by a doctor.
Parents should bring their children's immunization records and call ahead to expedite examinations and ensure other patients in waiting rooms aren't exposed.
Infected individuals may be asked to wear masks or be examined in an isolation room.
For more information about whooping cough, visit www.healthlinkbc.ca.
To make an appointment for immunization, contact your local health unit: Hope, 604-860-7630; Chilliwack, 604-702-4900; Agassiz, 604-793-7160.
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