Havre Daily News
The Rocky Boy Public Health Department has discovered nine cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, since June, tribal health officials said Friday.
Also, the Hill County Health Department last week confirmed a third case of whooping cough this year.
This has been a record year for the disease in Montana, state Department of Public Health and Human Services health specialist Jim Murphy said today. The number of cases has reached 434 in the state, compared with 84 cases reported last year. This year has outpaced numbers kept since the 1960s.
"What is happening in Rocky Boy is not unusual," Murphy said. Many of the state's cases have been in large outbreaks in Billings and Helena, with more than 100 cases in each city, but smaller communities are seeing outbreaks too. The Hill County Health Department reported two cases in June.
A press release from the Rocky Boy health department said the nine cases occurred in people ages 9 to 36. Each person who contracted the disease is being treated and public health nurses are researching the close contacts of each infected person to uncover any more cases.
Brian "Kelly" Eagleman, Rocky Boy Health Board co-chair, said he wants people to know about the outbreak before the Rocky Boy Pow-Wow, which will take place Aug. 4-7, so they can take precautions.
"A lot of the powwow activities are outside. That's not a real high risk activity because you're sharing a big air space," Murphy said. "The risk is family that's gathering indoors with coughing people."
The disease can be spread through the air when a sick person coughs, the press release said. People should minimize any contact they have with a person who is coughing, and people with a persistent cough should see a doctor.
Particular care should be taken to prevent exposing infants to sick people, Murphy said. Older people and especially infants have a greater risk of complications from the disease. Sixty percent of children under 12 months who contract whooping cough require hospitalization. The disease killed one Montana infant last year and one the year before, he said.
The disease is treated with antibiotics. A vaccine is available for infants and a booster is available for teens, which is new this year, Murphy said.
The press release said children should receive four doses of DTAP - diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine - by 15 months of age and then a fifth dose before beginning school.
People who are immunized can still contract whooping cough, but the disease tends to be less severe.
Whooping cough gets its name from the unusual coughing sound it can produce, a high pitched cough, the press release said. That cough is due to difficulty breathing.
The disease produces a toxin that damages the respiratory tract, Murphy said. The infection lasts three weeks, when an infected person is contagious, but coughing can continue for three months due to the presence of the toxin.
People who have received treatment may also keep coughing for a time but will no longer be contagious.
The Rocky Boy Health Department is asking that community members remember to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands frequently and see a doctor if they develop a persistant cough.
Whooping cough begins with symptoms similar to a cold, the press release said.