Ag. Public Health Communications Specialist
Ministry of Health and Social Development
Telephone: 468-3701 ext. 852 7742
The Ministry of Health and Social Development is increasing surveillance and sample collection for Severe Acute Respiratory Illnesses following the results of an investigation on two suspected cases of Pertussis, also known as whooping cough detected in St. Lucia.
The Ministry of Health in St. Lucia officially notified the Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA of the receipt of positive laboratory results for two suspected cases that were part of a wider investigation of six cases of prolonged, severe cough in small children requiring hospital admission.
Following investigations, it was found that four of the suspected cases had not yet received their initial dose of DPT vaccination, which is a combination of vaccines against three infectious diseases in humans: diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus. The vaccine kills whole cells of the organism that causes pertussis.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency stated the two other cases had received the vaccination, but had done so approximately one week prior to developing symptoms, which suggested that there was not sufficient time to obtain immunity from the vaccine prior to onset of illness. The suspected cases range from one to six months in age.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that Pertussis or whooping cough, is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by a type of bacteria called bordetella pertussis. These bacteria attach to tiny, hair-like extensions that line part of the upper respiratory system and release toxins, which cause inflammation (swelling).
Whooping cough is transmitted by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. Infants who contract whooping cough are usually infected by older siblings, parents or caregivers. Symptoms usually develop within five to ten days after being exposed, but sometimes not for as long as three weeks. CARPHA also reports that while all the suspected cases were initially hospitalised, they have all subsequently been discharged after treatment and are doing well.
CARPHA and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have committed to facilitate the development of sustainable national and regional capacity for diagnostics for Pertussis, and will be working alongside St. Lucia and other Caribbean countries in this regard.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development will remain vigilant in its surveillance and sample collection for Severe Acute Respiratory Illness, and enhance reporting and sample collection from clusters of respiratory illness, especially of prolonged duration, in children under five. The DPT vaccine and all other childhood vaccinations are provided free of charge by the BVI Health Services Authority to all Virgin Islands residents. Parents are encouraged to ensure that children receive their entire courses of immunisation in order to be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development aspires to provide a caring and integrated system of health and social services that facilitates human development and improves the quality of life in the Virgin Islands.