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Several whooping cough cases confirmed in Missoula County

Posted at 10:15 AM, Apr 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-24 16:46:15-04

Health officials are looking into six whooping cough cases in the Missoula area.

Sentinel High School sent out a message to parents Tuesday about three confirmed pertussis cases at the school.

The Missoula City-County Health Department reported a total of six cases and has identified more than 300 close contacts who may have been exposed to the infection.

The ages for the confirmed cases range from preschool through teenager, with one case requiring hospitalization. Health officials noted there are more suspected cases of pertussis that are pending laboratory results.

There is a mix of unvaccinated and vaccinated children among the cases, according to the health department.

The health department is working directly with the affected families and the schools the ill children attended to identify close contacts, according to a news release.

Pertussis is spread by respiratory droplets, so while it is highly contagious, not everyone who goes to the same school as a child with pertussis is considered a close enough contact to have been exposed.

The health department noted that when a close contact is identified, they will notify the child and the child’s parents.

Parents are asked to not call the health department or their child’s school to determine if their child has been exposed. For other questions about pertussis, please call the Missoula health department’s pertussis information line at (406) 258-INFO.

With an outbreak underway in the Missoula area, there may be more active cases of pertussis in the community that health officials don’t know about yet.

If treated in its early stages, pertussis symptoms can be reduced, and close contacts who have been exposed can be protected from developing the disease.

Anyone experiencing the pertussis symptoms described below should contact their healthcare provider or go to a walk-in clinic for testing. Immunization provides good but not full protection against pertussis, so people can get the disease even when vaccinated.

Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” typically begins with cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, mild occasional cough, sneezing and low-grade fever.

Later symptoms include a persistent cough with fits of coughing severe enough that exhaustion, vomiting or a whooping sound may occur as the patient tries to catch their breath.

Symptoms can be more severe in unvaccinated individuals, babies less than a year old and those with compromised immune systems.

Residents are encouraged to check their vaccination status by calling their doctor or the health department’s Immunization Clinic at (406) 258-3363.

People who have not received the full pertussis series, including a booster, and women who are pregnant, even if they were fully immunized before pregnancy, are urged to update their vaccinations.


Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a type of bacteria. It can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old.

Pertussis symptoms can appear differently and be less severe in vaccinated individuals, but can still be contagious.

Symptoms

  • Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After coughing fits, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths, which result in a “whooping” sound.
  • Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 5 to 10 days after you are exposed. Sometimes pertussis symptoms do not develop for as long as 3 weeks.
    Early Symptoms
  • The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. In babies, the cough can be minimal or nonexistent.
  • Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include runny nose, low-grade fever, mild, occasional cough, or Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)
  • Pertussis in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold.

Later-stage Symptoms

  • After 1 to 2 weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include fits of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound, throwing up during or after coughing fits, and exhaustion.

Pertussis in Babies

  • It is important to know that many babies with pertussis don’t cough at all. Instead it causes them to stop breathing and turn blue.

How and When to Get Help

  • If you are experiencing symptoms of Pertussis, see your provider right away.
  • If you or a family member has been identified as exposed, you will receive instructions from the Health Department.
  • The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated. Make sure that you and your family are up to date on your immunizations.
  • If you need information on your immunization status, contact your provider or the Health Department.

Need to get vaccinated?

The Missoula City-County Health Department, located at 301 West Alder St., carries the Pertussis vaccine (DTaP & Tdap) and can bill most insurance plans, including Medicaid. They offer a sliding fee scale for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Call the Immunization Clinic at 406-258-3363 for more information. The clinic offers walk-in hours at the following times: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

If you have not been contacted by the Health Department, no action is needed at this point. If you have additional questions, please contact (406) 258-INFO.