Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Whooping cough making comeback

Recorded cases could double last year's total

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The incidence of whooping cough in Manitoba is on pace to more than double this year compared with 2011.

According to the province's latest disease surveillance report, Manitoba recorded 51 cases of the disease to the end of September, compared with 26 throughout last year.

Dr. Richard Rusk, a provincial medical officer of health, said the numbers confirm worries earlier in the year that the disease is making a comeback.

"It's a little worrisome. We still do have to keep vigilant about this," he said in an interview Thursday.

However, he noted numbers will be far lower than they were a couple of decades ago.

Manitoba health officials were jolted in early August when a baby under a year old died from the disease. At that time, 13 cases of whooping cough had been confirmed in the province.

The government advised adults who have regular contact with children to be vaccinated against the bacterial infection, formally known as pertussis.

Manitoba had averaged 37 cases of whooping cough a year over the previous decade, but the baby's death was the first fatal case in five years.

Rusk said he was pleased with the response to the province's call for increased vaccination. Orders for vaccine jumped six-fold in August and have continued well above previous levels.

The province has also made the shots free to the public. Anyone getting a booster shot for tetanus will also be immunized for whooping cough at the same time -- with just one needle.

Manitoba's vaccination rate of 70 per cent for whooping cough is barely adequate, said Rusk.

"I would prefer to see it higher, simply because it's such an infectious disease," he said.

Meanwhile, provincial figures also show a sharp increase in the number of people testing positive for antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as MRSA and c. difficile.

Confirmed cases of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) this year had climbed to 2,879 by the end of September, already eclipsing the 2,465 recorded all of last year.

There were 398 MRSA cases detected in September, about 100 more than the province expected.

The numbers for c. difficile and a third superbug, known as VRE, did not rise in September, but remain on pace to exceed 2011 levels.

But health officials are playing down the high numbers, saying they reflect improved community and hospital screening.

"I think the numbers are evidence of an improved system," Rusk said Thursday. "We are monitoring better than we have in the past."

Heidi Graham, a spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said VRE remains an ongoing concern in the hospital system.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 A10

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