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May 18, 2012

Pertussis outbreaks continue as state passes 200 cases - Officials Urge Vaccinations

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and local health agencies are continuing to report local outbreaks of pertussis, also known as whooping cough.  The number of cases has passed 200, the highest number since Montana’s 2005 outbreak that resulted in almost 600 cases.  Health officials are encouraging everyone, including adults, to take advantage of available vaccines and visit a medical provider if you have a persistent cough to help slow the spread of the disease.

Since January 2012, 18 of the state’s counties and tribal health jurisdictions have reported pertussis cases with outbreaks in Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Ravalli, Lake , Missoula, Rosebud and Yellowstone counties. Local and state public health officials are concerned that the number of reported cases will continue to increase unless people take action to protect themselves and others.

According to DPHHS health officials, pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing, but one that can be prevented by getting vaccinated. Although it initially resembles an ordinary cold, pertussis can turn more serious, particularly in infants.  Over half of infants diagnosed will require hospitalization. Several states are reporting increases in reported pertussis, Washington State is leading the way with 1,300 cases reported this year.

 “We continue to see cases of pertussis and most are preventable,” said DPHHS Director Anna Whiting Sorrell. “Making sure parents and caregivers are up to date on their vaccines is our best long term strategy. Anyone caring for children can take advantage of the vaccine to prevent spreading pertussis.”

People who are vaccinated are unlikely to become ill after an exposure or spread the illness to others. 
Local health jurisdictions continue to follow-up on each case to help stop the spread of the disease to close contacts such as classmates and family members.  Close environments such as schools and daycares are ideal for easily and quickly spreading pertussis and present challenges to health officials.  “We are getting great cooperation from schools who assist us by referring ill children to providers and are helping with immunization reviews”  said Karl Milhon, manager of the state’s Communicable Disease Program.   

Pertussis vaccination begins at age two months, but young infants are not adequately protected until they have received a series of vaccinations.  Because protection from the vaccine can fade over time, a booster is recommended for pre-kindergarten age, pre-teens, teens, and adults.  A relatively new pertussis vaccine is available and is now recommended for all teens and adults.  

More information is available from local health providers and public health departments, or go to www.dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/immunization/pertussis.shtml
Page last updated: 06/13/2012