The outbreak of pertussis, also known as whooping cough in Missoula has now doubled from seven to 14 according to Ellen Leahy, Director of the Missoula City County Health Department.

“Pertussis has now been found in about eight different schools, and we have some adults among our cases now as well as children down to the age of four,” said Leahy. “We’ve had wonderful cooperation from the schools, the families and the healthcare providers. We have 37 more laboratory tests pending over at the state lab in Helena and we’ll get the results back from those by late this afternoon.”

Leahy described the process of contacting those who may have been exposed to pertussis.

“In the case of pertussis, we look at all household contacts, so if you live in the same house, you are a contact,” she said. “When we get out of the house situation as in a school or a workplace, we’re trying to determine who has sat or worked or been within about a three foot zone for at least an hour. That’s what it takes for this particular bug to expose another person.”

Leahy said the spread pertussis is difficult to determine.

“You don’t really know the end until you go from two incubation periods with no new cases,” she said. “We can’t predict when the outbreak will be over, so all we can do is when we get a nee case we jump on it and enlist that person’s cooperation so we can start with their innermost circle then go to their school and their workplace.”

Leahy said the Health Department is enlisting the help of the entire healthcare community.

“We’re pulling nurses from everywhere we can in the department, and the schools are also doing everything they can to get extra help,” she said. “Managing each case, the actual case numbers are far smaller than the contacts. With seven confirmed cases we generated about 300 contacts. We don’t know yet how many contacts will be generated from Friday night, but we have been working on them over the weekend.”

Leahy emphasized how important it is that anyone who contracts pertussis to be treated as quickly as possible.

“It’s usually going to take a good six weeks for that cough to calm down,” she said. “If it’s not diagnosed or the antibiotics are given too late, the bacteria creates a toxin and that is what causes the lungs to continue to cough, that’s why it’s irritated and you can be ill for up to three months. That’s why in China they call pertussis the 100 day cough.”

Anyone with questions should contact the Missoula City County Health Department’s Infectious Disease Division.

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