By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A second Havre Middle School student has a confirmed case of pertussis, or whooping cough. It's the first positive result in more than 10 tests since the first case was identified Nov. 12, Hill County Nurse Cindy Smith said today.
Smith said the student who tested positive Wednesday had already begun treatment after showing symptoms of the disease.
The second Havre case brings the count for the state up to 54 this year, an unusually high number, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services health specialist Jim Murphy said.
In the past, the number of cases has been in the single digits, except in 2001, when the state had 54 cases, he said. He expects as many as 60 cases in Montana by the end of the year.
"From time to time it gets like this. We've been fortunate in years past," Murphy said.
One infant died from pertussis earlier this year in Gallatin County, he said.
"That's the case we worry about the most," he said, referring to infants under the age of 12 months, who are most at risk.
Montana has been luckier than North Dakota, which is up to 700 cases this year, Murphy said.
The disease causes serious coughing and is treatable with antibiotics but is very infectious, Smith said. It can be transmitted when a person talks, laughs or coughs, spreading bodily fluids.
Parents should be sure that small children are inoculated, she said. The disease can be fatal for very young children, and can also cause serious illness in adults, she added.
The Health Department recommends that children under the age of 1 year be kept from anybody exhibiting coughing or coldlike symptoms, Smith said.
Murphy said adults with a persistant cough should be tested. A cough is the most identifiable symptom of the disease.
"Behind every infant case, there is a coughing adult," Murphy said.
Smith is assisting nurses at the middle school with identifying close contacts of both students who contracted the disease.
Based on the timing of the two illnesses, she said it did not appear that the first student had infected the second. The second student did not have close contact with the first, and became ill only the day after any possible contact with the first one, which Smith said does not fit with the disease's normal incubation period of up to three weeks.
Smith said the state has told her that she may never learn whether the two cases are linked because the test for pertussis, which is conducted by nasal swab, does not reveal the strain of the disease and therefore does not allow health officials to follow the disease's movement precisely.
In its search for people who have had close contact with the two students, the County Health Department is defining contact as more than an hour in an enclosed room with an infected person. State guidelines tell the Health Department to continue looking for more cases for 42 days after the second case was identified.
Smith said relatives of the second student have already begun treatment for the disease as a precaution.