Since January of 2012, the US has documented over 38,000 cases of whooping cough.
“In Montana alone over 500 cases have been lab confirmed. As of last week, Valier is no longer the exception,” says Cynthia Grubb, RN, CLC of the county health department.
“Two confirmed cases of Whooping Cough have been diagnosed in students in the Valier School System. Named for its characteristic spasmodic whooping sound; pertussis is particularly dangerous in infants who often catch the disease from direct care providers,” she said.
According to Montana administrative rules; a contact investigation follows the diagnosis of a pertussis case. The Pondera County Health Department (PCDH) in full cooperation with Montana DPHHS Communicable Disease division and Valier Public Schools is in the process of identifying close contacts to the cases and recommending follow up care.
Once identified, contacts that are deemed close by state guideline are determined to be symptomatic or asymptomatic meaning in simple terms; do they or do they not have symptoms of pertussis?
Those without symptoms who are close contacts are requested to take a round of antibiotics but may continue to go to school. Those with symptoms are required to be tested, given antibiotics, and must remain home until the test comes back negative or antibiotic treatment is completed for five days.
The symptoms of pertussis include the hallmark spasmodic cough that can last for weeks. The DPHHS reminds the public that these cases; which have occurred in the vaccinated population mostly within children 5-18 years of age, do not always present with the stereotypical “whoop” sound.
A typical case of pertussis includes a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks or months of rapid coughing that, at times, ends with a whooping sound.
Vaccination is still the best defense for this disease which statewide has caused four hospitalizations in infants under the age of one.
Sometimes vaccinated people are exposed and get whooping cough anyway. However, it’s important to remember that vaccinated people who get whooping cough usually have milder symptoms, a shorter illness, and are less likely to spread the disease to other people.
If you have not been affected by this illness yet, you can still assist the process by following these guidelines: keep your student home if they are ill. Follow the guidelines exactly if your student receives a close contact letter.
Todd Gianarelli MD; Health Officer for the (PCHD) also reminds adults of the importance of being vaccinated. “This can be a life threatening illness for infants, who get it from the adults that care for them.”
He went on to add, “All adults should receive one dose of Tdap (tetanus vaccine with pertussis added) regardless of when there last tetanus shot occurred. This is especially important for anyone who is a caregiver of infants.”
Tdap vaccine is available at all local vaccine providers and is currently free of charge to adults who have no insurance or whose insurance does not cover vaccinations.
Editor’s note: You can read more about pertussis illness and vaccine at www.cdc.gov/pertussis or call the Pondera County Health Department at 406-271-3247.