Syrian refugees trigger whooping cough exposure alert in Surrey, Aldergrove

Officials say there is no public health concern, but are assessing children and their contacts for risk

Fraser Health is warning there may be increased risk of contracting whooping cough after incoming Syrian refugee children were exposed to the disease in eastern Canada before arriving in B.C.

Refugee families were exposed during their hotel stay in Montreal and some have since moved to Surrey’s Guildford area and Aldergrove.

Fraser officials said there is no public health concern, but there may have been additional exposures so they are following up to assess the children and their contacts for risk of contracting pertussis, commonly called whooping cough.

“There’s no confirmed cases in Fraser of pertussis in Syrian refugees,” said Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma. “This is a routine precautionary communication that we have with care providers in the community on a regular basis.”

The original exposure has been tied to a Syrian refugee who arrived in Montreal from Jordan on Feb. 16 with respiratory symptoms that were later diagnosed as pertussis.

Many Syrian refugees have incomplete vaccinations and are considered at increased risk from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Officials remind the public to have all their vaccines up to date.

Juma said whooping cough often circulates in the region.

An significant outbreak centred in the eastern Fraser Valley in 2012 resulted in more than 150 people infected with pertussis.

The highly contagious bacterial infection causes adults to cough for months and can be deadly to babies.

Early symptoms of pertussis are similar to a cold, but often worsening to severe coughing that sounds like a whoop or crowing sound as the patient breathes in. Symptoms develop seven to 14 days after infection.

For more information and a list of pharmacies that perform immunizations, see www.fraserhealth.ca/whoopingcough.

SEE ALSO: Fraser Health’s update on pertussis exposure in Syrian refugees