Havre Daily News
The Rocky Boy Public Health Department has confirmed 22 cases of whooping cough since June and is advising precautions for the annual powwow that will draw a large crowd to the reservation this weekend.
Those precautions include avoiding people who are coughing. People who are ill are advised to stay at home.
A state health official said today that whooping cough, also known as pertussis, could be spread at large gatherings but that the risk of getting it at an outdoor event like a powwow is slim.
"If you're just passing somebody in a large crowd that is coughing, especially if you're outside, the risk is very, very small," said Elton Mosher, health services specialist with the state Department of Health and Human Services.
All 22 cases at Rocky Boy were confirmed between June 1 and July 28, Rocky Boy public health nurse Janet Runnion said. The confirmed cases have been in patients ages 13 months to 36 years, with most in their late teens to early 20s.
The health department has screened all of the people the infected patients have been in contact with, Runnion said.
No hospitalizations have occurred as a result of the outbreak at Rocky Boy, and everyone found to be infected with the disease has been treated and is no longer contagious, she said.
The outbreak has slowed down, with no new cases in the last week, Runnion said.
A vaccine is available for young children, beginning at 15 months, and several rounds are administered to children before they start school, health officials have said. The illness can be deadly to infants. The vaccine wears off, but people who have been vaccinated and contract the disease tend to experience it less severely than those who haven't.
The vaccination rate on the reservation is about 90 percent, Runnion said. Whooping cough is spread through the air when a sick person coughs, health officials said.
The rule used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mosher said, is that a person in an enclosed area with a coughing, infected person for one hour is at risk for the disease. If that person were to be face to face, in close proximity, with a coughing person, a shorter period of exposure could spread the disease, Mosher said.
The best advice for people who attend the powwow is to avoid somebody who is coughing, Mosher said.
"We are putting up fliers at the powwow grounds for visitors," Runnion said. "We'll just advise them that we're experiencing an outbreak, that it can be harmful for infants, and how it's spread."
The Rocky Boy health department is also advising that people wash their hands frequently, stay home if they are ill and see a doctor if they develop cold-like symptoms, including a persistant cough.
Mosher said people visiting Rocky Boy this weekend may also be carrying the disease into the area. State officials have recorded 470 cases this year from counties across the state, he said.
Jim Murphy, state Department of Public Health and Human Services health specialist, has said Montana is witnessing a record year for cases of whooping cough. Outbreaks in small communities like Rocky Boy are not uncommon, he has said, and several urban areas have seen outbreaks infecting more than 100 people.
Anybody with questions about whooping cough can contact Rocky Boy health officials at 395-4395 or can call the Hill County Health Department at 265-5481, ext. 266.