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Montana Sees Influx Of Pertussis Cases Compared To Last Year

Reported pertussis cases by county as of Aug. 23.
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
Reported pertussis cases by county as of Aug. 23.

Montana now has 12 times as many confirmed pertussis cases than at this time last year.

That’s according to the latest state Health Department report showing there are more than 440 reported pertussis – or whooping cough – cases in Montana. That compares to 37 cases at this time last year.

Missoula County is seeing the vast majority of Montana’s pertussis cases.

As of Thursday, there were 169 confirmed reports.

“This is an unprecedented number of cases."

Cindy Farr, health promotion director at the Missoula City/County Health Department says that, until now:

“The highest number of cases that we’ve seen in one outbreak occurred several years ago back in 2012 when we had 23 cases.”

Farr says that could explain this recent surge; no one really saw it coming.

“Pertussis wasn’t what providers were thinking and so we had some of our earlier cases coughing for weeks and weeks and weeks. I think it took root in our community before it was recognized. Now we’re having a much more difficult time getting rid of it," she says.

Missoula cases are getting reported from across the age spectrum, in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Whopping cough reports slowed this summer, but did not go away altogether. Confirmed cases continued to roll in at an average of two per week. That has health officials on guard here at the start of the school year.

“It’s really important everyone knows how to properly wash their hands, cover their cough, stay home if they’re sick, keep their kids home if they’re sick," Farr says. "If they seem like they’re having symptoms of a cold – runny nose, sneezing and mild to severe cough – then they should probably get checked out by a health care provider, just to make sure it’s not pertussis.”

People who have been vaccinated generally have less severe symptoms, but they can still spread the disease.

According to the state Health Department, 22 counties have reported at least one pertussis case this year. The latest report from late last month shows Flathead County with 82 cases, and 66 in Gallatin County. Yellowstone County has at least 10 confirmed cases.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.