Havre Daily News
The Hill County Health Department has confirmed two new cases of pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, in Hill County since the beginning of the month. A 4-year-old was diagnosed Wednesday, and 19-year-old was diagnosed on June 1. Montana has had a series of localized outbreaks of the bacterial respiratory illness, which can last several weeks or months and can lead to death.
Whooping cough cases have been on the rise in the state, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services health specialist Jim Murphy said. A total of 380 cases have been found in Montana so far this year, he said. Most of the cases were the result of two large outbreaks of at least 120 cases each. One such outbreak was in Yellowstone County at the beginning of the year. The Helena area is on the tail end of a similar outbreak. One infant death has been reported this year, in Roosevelt County, Murphy said today.
In 2004, 84 cases were reported statewide, with one infant death in Gallatin County.
"That was about double what we generally have," Murphy said. "We have continued that at a pretty healthy pace for 2005. From what we can tell, we're having a record year."
The outbreaks have been driven by cases of the illness in kids age 10 to 19, which make up about 60 percent of this year's cases, he said. Those kids were exposed at school and can bring home the illness, which can be transmitted through the air by a sick person coughing, sneezing or talking, and infect a younger sibling or an elderly relative, Murphy said.
Anyone can get pertussis, Murphy said. The illness can have dire consequences for young children, however.
"It's the most serious in the youngest age groups," Hill County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Richardson said Wednesday.
A majority of those under 12 months of age who contract the illness are hospitalized, Murphy said.
"Those are the kids that suffer the complications, the pneumonia and sometimes death," he said. "They're more fragile."
Senior citizens also are susceptible to severe cases of whooping cough, Murphy said. He's heard stories of patients coughing to the point of gagging or vomiting, and about elderly patients who have cracked ribs during coughing fits.
"It's not a normal cough," he said.
Children should receive four doses of their DTAP - diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis - immunizations by the age of 17 months and a fifth dose by 4 to 6 years of age, Hill County Health Department spokeswoman Jennifer Brandon said.
Those vaccinations do not guarantee that someone will be safe from whooping cough, Murphy said. Children with up-to-date immunizations may still contract the illness, though it should be less severe, he said.
The 4-year-old in Hill County had the first set of shots but had not yet received the fifth shot, Hill County Health Nurse Cindy Smith said.
The vaccine's effects will start to wane as a person becomes older, Murphy said. Teenagers and adults can still get the illness even if they've been vaccinated. A booster shot was recently made available for teens, Murphy said. It began shipping earlier this month and is best found by contacting a physician. It will be made available to public agencies for distribution at some point in the near future, he said. There are also plans to make an adult booster shot available.
Murphy said cases in adults are more common than people think. Those cases are not often diagnosed.
"It's not unusual to find some coughing adults in the background" when a child is diagnosed, he said. Those adults are usually misdiagnosed as having bronchitis or another respiratory illness. "Usually when you find it in a kid, you do more testing, but it's not the first thing a doctor thinks of when an adult comes in with a cough."
If anyone has a severe cough that lasts longer than 10 days, they should go to a doctor, Murphy said.
Richardson said there are ways to prevent the spread of whooping cough: Stay away from people with a cough and wash hands to stop the spread of bacteria.