Quebec sees spike in whooping cough cases

Quebec public health authorities are warning of a resurgence of whooping cough across the province after over 1,500 new cases were reported this month alone.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a cyclical disease that returns to Quebec every three to five years. Its return was delayed due to the pandemic, public health authorities say.

The highly contagious infection spreads through respiratory droplets and is marked by a distinct "whoop" sound between coughs.

Quebec last saw an upsurge in cases in 2019.

As of June 19, the province reported more than 3,471 whooping cough cases since the start of 2024. That's more than 33 times the total number of cases declared in the previous year.

Montreal has 184 confirmed cases of whooping cough so far this year, compared to 14 cases in 2023, according to the CIUSSS Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

The city has seen an increase in cases in recent weeks, many of which were reported in elementary and high schools, according to a message the local health authority sent to parents.

Vaccination for pregnant women

Public health authorities are encouraging pregnant women to protect their infants from whooping cough through vaccination.

It is highly recommended that pregnant women get vaccinated as of the 26th week of pregnancy.

Dr. Marie-Ève Beauregard, a medical specialist in public health at the CISSS Chaudière-Appalaches, says she is especially worried about babies under one year old, who are at higher risk of developing severe whooping cough and needing hospitalization.

Since the start of the year, 713 whooping cough cases have been reported in the the province's central Chaudière-Appalaches, Quebec Public Health confirmed.

Dr. Marie-Ève Beauregard is a medical specialist in public health at the CISSS Chaudière-Appalaches.
Dr. Marie-Ève Beauregard is a medical specialist in public health at the CISSS Chaudière-Appalaches. (Flavie Savageau/Radio-Canada)

The regional health authority is launching an awareness campaign among pregnant women in light of the spike in cases.

"In 2024, we can say that a little baby has never had as high a risk in years of being in contact with someone who has whooping cough," Beauregard said.

Symptoms to watch for

A bout of whooping cough typically lasts between six and 10 weeks.

In the first few days, symptoms include a runny nose, a light cough, a slight fever and teary eyes. Later, a person who has the illness will start to have intense coughing fits and difficulty breathing. They may also feel nauseous and momentarily experience apnea.

Health authorities say vaccines are the best way to protect yourself from severe whooping cough symptoms and ensuing complications.

Although people who are vaccinated may develop milder symptoms, Beauregard insists that the vaccines are effective at preventing infant mortality.

You can get the vaccine for free by appointment through the Clic-Santé online portal or by calling a CLSC.

If you have persistent symptoms, it is important to wear a mask and contact Info-Santé at 811 or your health-care provider.