Pertussis Exposure in Syrian Refugees

Key messages:

  • Confirmed cases of pertussis have been identified in Syrian Refugee children in Ontario and Nova Scotia and exposed contacts have since relocated to the lower mainland of BC
  • Health care providers in Fraser caring for Syrian Refugees should be alert to this risk of pertussis in patients presenting with respiratory symptoms
  • Health care providers should notify public health immediately if they identify reportable communicable diseases in Syrian Refugees and other infectious diseases where exposure was PRIOR to arrival in Canada

On February 16, a Syrian Refugee arrived from Jordan to Montreal with respiratory symptoms and was subsequently diagnosed with pertussis. Other refugee families were exposed during their hotel stay in Montreal, and some of these contacts have now moved to BC and specifically the Aldergrove and Guildford areas in Fraser. Public Health is following up with known contacts to assess their current health and provide prophylaxis to high risk contacts. However, additional exposures may have occurred, and health care providers caring for Syrian Refugees in the Fraser region should be aware of this increased risk of pertussis.

Many Syrian Refugees will have incomplete vaccinations and may be at increased risk from vaccine-preventable diseases. Health care providers should notify public health immediately if they suspect a reportable communicable disease. If you suspect other infectious diseases in a Syrian Refugee where the exposure was likely prior to their arrival in Canada, these should also be reported to public health so that they can be referred on to the Public Health Agency of Canada who is working with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada to mitigate this issue. Health care providers can refer refugees to their local public health unit for assessment of their immunization status and provision of catch-up vaccinations.

If you suspect your patient may have pertussis:

  • A nasopharyngeal (NP) specimen, using a pertussis swab (dacron swab on wire shaft, NOT cotton swab on plastic shaft) is recommended for laboratory diagnosis. Swabs should not be taken from asymptomatic contacts. Pertussis swabs may be ordered (free) from
  • Report all suspect pertussis cases so Public Health can follow-up on any high risk close contacts for whom antibiotic prophylaxis is recommended.
  • All suspect and confirmed cases of pertussis should be told to stay home until after 5 days of antibiotic treatment, or until NP swab results rule out infection. Without antibiotics, patients are infectious until 3 weeks from onset of cough. Asymptomatic contacts of cases do not require isolation.

The Fraser Health Medical Health Officers are available for medical consultations at 604-587-3828 or 1-877-342-6467 (M-F, 0830-1630 hrs) or after hours at 604-527-4806.

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