Number of Whooping Cough Cases Grows in the Flathead

The number of cases of Pertussis, or Whooping Cough in Flathead County has grown to 21. Most of those affected are children in the school system, but a few adult cases have also been reported. Public Health Officer Joe Russell with the Flathead City-County Health Department says he counts 20 lab-confirmed cases of Whooping Cough across the Flathead Valley, and one not yet lab confirmed as of this morning.

“What we found out at the end of last, yesterday, is we have some new schools that have been implicated. Trinity, and also Evergreen. WE’re going to be doing a lot of contact investigation and case investigation today at those two schools,” Russell said.

Other schools affected include Glacier High School in Kalispell, Kalispell Middle School with cases in both 6th and 8th grades, Swan River Elementary in Bigfork, and at Ruder and Glacier Gateway Elementary Schools in Columbia Falls. Russell says 18 of the cases are kids, three adults.

“Of the 21 cases, 4 of them are either under-immunized or un-immunized. And then you turn around and say; ‘well, jeez, Joe, that means that a high probability, or a high likelihood of disease transmission happened in immunized kids.’ Well, yes, that happens. Immunization isn’t 100% effective,” Russell said.

However, Russell says the County has 11 to 12-hundred students in each grade, “that’s a really small number of… of transmission of disease in immunized kids. It falls within the likelihood of the efficacy of the vaccine.”

Once a case gets reported the classroom gets cleaned, and the Health Department’s investigation will look at where the student has been, and who else has been exposed to the cough.

“So, you’re back a week, so you get an onset date, and you look at it, ‘ok, it’s the 9th, so I gotta’ back to the 2nd, and I have to start going backwards to try to find out what they may have been doing, because those events could trigger a whole new case, contact investigation,” Russell said.

Households across the Flathead have been receiving phone calls from the Health Department if someone in that house has come into contact with any of the cases of whooping cough.

The Health Department recommends a 5-day dose of antibiotics for those who have been exposed.

Russell says this isn’t necessarily an odd time of year for whooping cough to turn up, “the fact of the matter is they’re still in school, they’re still close contacts, and it’s a highly contagious disease.”

Russell says Whooping Cough will start out feeling like a cold, developing into a lingering cough that keeps getting worse. It can also include a low grade fever.

State law calls for students to have a Diphtheria and Tetanus shots before entering school, and a booster prior to entering 7th grade, unless claiming exemption.

Russell says the shot is usually available as Tdap, which includes the Diphtheria, Tetanus, and A-Cellular Pertussis vaccines.

He says most healthcare providers have the shots, as does the Health Department.

 Flathead County Health Department – Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Information

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