The Number of Whooping Cough Cases Climbs in the Flathead

The number of confirmed cases of whooping cough grows in the Flathead Valley. As of Thursday morning the city-county Health Department counted 34-cases.

School’s back and so is whooping cough in the Flathead Valley. Public Health Officer Joe Russell said the cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, are concentrated in the Bigfork, lower-valley area, but there have been cases across the Valley, and it’s not just kids getting sick.

“I can use the term ‘considerable,’ compared to last year,” Russell said, “we have a lot more adults coming up with Pertussis.”

Last school year ended with an outbreak of pertussis and Russell said he’s not surprised to see it back this fall.

“I was hoping we were going to have kind of a mild effect this year,” Russell said, “I still believe that we have this very large population that is clearly under immunized.” Russell said this large population may be adults. He said many of the people coming down with the illness are up-to-date on their shots. However, he said they’re immune systems just keep getting hit.

“You can get punched once, and you may not go down, but if you get punched four or five times… the more you get punched, the more likely you are to be knocked out, right?” Russell said another factor could be the effectiveness of the a-cellular pertussis vaccine.

“Just based on the fact that we have a lot of fully vaccinated young adults that are coming down with this, it makes sense that there may be some effectiveness issues with the vaccine. But it’s still better than not vaccinating,” Russell said “you still have to vaccinate because zero percent effective is not nearly as good as some effectiveness from the vaccine.”

When someone tests positive for pertussis the Health Department gets in touch with others they’ve been in close contact with. The Health Department recommends those exposed get “prophylaxed” by taking a round of antibiotics.

Russell said the Department has been accused of taking a shotgun approach and over-medicating but said that’s not the case.

“We’re really taking a very surgical approach to what is a close contact. So, if you get a call from the Health Department, and they say you’re a close contact. Please believe it and prophylax,” Russell said three of the last five cases the Health Department has found are from people who had been contacted for being in close contact with a confirmed case of pertussis.


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