The total count of Pertussis cases in the Flathead grows to 59. The Flathead City-County Health Department confirms three new cases during the first week of June. All are students including a sixth grader from Somers Middle School, a 4th grade student from Elrod Elementary and a 5th grade student from Edgerton Elementary, both in Kalispell.
Health Officer Joe Russell said the number of cases of Petussis, or Whooping Cough, is winding down, “the great thing about summer, and kids is that they’re not congregating, they’re outside, their contacts are different, no- we fully expect to see this thing wane.”
Russell said kids being out of school will also present some challenges if more cases crop up, “getting hold of parents and families that are vacationing and running around, and having fun – it makes it a little more challenging to do contact investigation.”
If you or your child has been in a class, or a school, or some activity with another person who has tested positive for whooping cough, you already know what the contact investigation is about. The Health Department calls the families of those believed to have come into contact with Pertussis and recommends a 5-day dose of antibiotics for those who have been exposed.
Russell said the first confirmed case of Whooping Cough in the Flathead came on March 22nd.
Regionally other states have also seen outbreaks, Washington State making national news for its 2-thousand-plus cases of pertussis. Russell says it’s an illness that has cropped up in the area over the past couple of years.
“It’s been around the west, it’s been around the country,” Russell said, “Pertussis happens, and we’re just unfortunate enough that we had enough bacterial load in the valley that we had several small outbreaks in different school aged populations.”
As part of that “bacterial load” Russell talks about is an often asymptomatic, not-immunized adult population. He says many of the school kids who contracted whooping cough had been immunized, but the immunization is not 100 % effective, and a consistent barrage on an immune system can overwhelm the body’s defenses.
Russell says right now national guidelines call for health care professionals to get the Pertussis vaccine, but he says he’d like to see teachers, coaches, day care workers, anyone who works with children also get the shot.
“Now that we’re in summer, it may be less likely that we’ll see the disease, even though it may still be here, because we could start the next year with the same level of bacteria in our community, pertussis bacteria in our community, we may start the year off with another outbreak for all we know. The best thing we can do is get people vaccinated,” Russell said.
Russell says the number of people coming in to the Health Department to get the Diptheria, Tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine has increased since the first cases were reported earlier this spring.
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.