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Whooping cough cases confirmed at Bozeman High School

Posted at 8:54 AM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 10:54:53-05

BOZEMAN – Officials have confirmed three cases of pertussis — or whooping cough — connected with Bozeman High School.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department is investigating the three confirmed cases.

Health Department officials say they are working closely with Bozeman schools staff, as well as partners at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, to reduce the risk of further transmission of the disease.

According to a press release, school staff and public health nurses are working to proactively identify groups of individuals who have had exposure to the disease and are most at risk of serious illness.

All parents of children who are part of groups known to be in close contact with someone who has the disease will receive an email from Bozeman Public School District with additional instructions.

The following information was released by the Gallatin City-County Health Department:

Pertussis poses significant health risks for infants, young children and people with weakened immune systems or lung disease. Infants under one year of age, and particularly under six months, are most likely to experience severe illness if they develop pertussis.

While pertussis can cause serious illness, it is also important to note that it can be treated with antibiotics and the vast majority of people recover fully. The current priority of the Health Department is to identify exposed individuals with risk factors that make them more likely to become seriously ill. Additionally, exposed individuals without risk factors but who live with or are in prolonged close contact with someone who has risk factors may be advised to receive preventative medication.

“Pertussis is a serious disease, but one that can be treated effectively,” said Matt Kelley, Health Officer with the Gallatin City-County Health Department. “Our number one priority is to identify possible cases to contain the spread of the disease and to help parents protect their children.”

Pertussis begins with cold symptoms and a cough, which becomes much worse over one to two weeks. Symptoms often include a dry cough or a long series of coughs (“coughing fit”). There is generally no fever. The cough is often worse at night and cough medicines usually do not help alleviate the cough.

The most effective way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination. Pertussis vaccine is available for persons over the age of six weeks, and is included in the US Center for Disease Control’s recommended routine childhood immunization schedule. It is important to know that no vaccine is 100 percent effective and no community is 100 percent vaccinated. However, we do know that vaccines are the most effective tool we have to reduce transmission of pertussis and that even immunized children who get sick tend to have less severe symptoms than children who are not immunized.

Additional information related to pertussis can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is pertussis? Pertussis, a respiratory illness commonly known as whooping cough, is a contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. These bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins, which damage the cilia and cause inflammation (swelling).

Is pertussis treatable? Yes. Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics and early treatment is very important. Treatment may make your infection less severe if it is started early before coughing fits begin. Treatment can also help prevent spreading the disease to close contacts (people who have spent a lot of time around the infected person) and is necessary for stopping the spread of pertussis.

How is pertussis spread? Pertussis is only found in humans and is spread from person to person. The disease is usually spread when people who have pertussis cough or sneeze while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. It is important to stress that pertussis is spread by close contact with those who have contracted the disease.

What are the symptoms of pertussis? The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks.

In infants, the cough can be minimal or not present. Infants may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. A significant number of babies under 1 year of age who get the disease require hospitalization.

Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. This extreme coughing can cause you to throw up and be very tired. The “whoop” is often not there and the infection is generally milder (less severe) in teens and adults, especially those who have been vaccinated.

Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include:

  • Runny nose
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea – a pause in breathing (in infants)

How can I prevent pertussis? Over the long term, the best way to prevent pertussis (whooping cough) among infants, children, teens, and adults is to be vaccinated.

People who fit into the following categories or who have the following conditions are more likely to have complications from pertussis. To prevent complications from pertussis CDC recommends preventative treatment for close contacts in these categories. CDC also recommends treatment if you are a contact to a case and a close contact to someone in these categories.

Babies less than 12 months of age Pregnant women Persons with asthma

Persons with weakened immune system (such as from HIV, chemotherapy, organ transplant, or immunosuppressive therapy) Healthcare providers (direct care to pregnant women, infants, immunocompromised, inpatient) Persons with lung cancer Persons with COPD/Emphysema/Chronic Bronchitis Persons with cystic fibrosis Persons with pneumonia Persons with congestive heart failure

At this time, the Health Department is seeking to prevent further spread of the disease by identifying people who are most at risk of the most severe complications. For example, if you have been in close contact with someone who has pertussis and someone in your household has asthma, you may be advised to be treated in order to prevent the person with asthma from getting pertussis.

When can I return to school or work? If you have symptoms and have been tested for pertussis you may return to school/work when you receive a negative test or if the test is positive, you may return after finishing 5 days of antibiotics.

What if I don’t want to take antibiotics? People with concerns about antibiotics should discuss those concerns with their health care provider. They should also know that CDC guidance during a pertussis outbreak is to use antibiotics as a preventative measure for people who are at risk for significant compilations from the disease or at risk for spreading the disease to someone at high risk of complications from the disease.

The Health Department understands the concerns some people may have about providing antibiotics to people who are not symptomatic. They should know, however, that it is accepted medical practice to utilize antibiotics in this manner. They should also know that one of the reasons that health officials generally advise careful and measured use of antibiotics is so that those medications will be effective in situations such as this.

If vaccines are so important, then why are immunized people getting sick? No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and no community is 100 percent vaccinated. Also, it is important to know that vaccine immunity wanes over time. As a result, people are more likely to contract the disease as they get older. We do know, however, that vaccinated people who contract the disease tend to have a less severe illness than people with no immunity.

The huge benefit of vaccines is evident by examining mortality rates from pertussis in the United States before and after vaccines. Before a pertussis vaccine was developed, an average of 4,000 people died each year in the United States from the disease. Since the advent of a vaccine, an average of 27 people die from the disease, according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The pertussis vaccine saves thousands of lives each year.

Why isn’t everyone immunized? Health Department strongly recommends that all children receive all vaccinations recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP). The vaccine is also useful to protect adults, particularly those who are in close contact with young children or people with underlying health conditions. The ACIP’s recommendations include a series of vaccinations against pertussis.

How can I find out more about pertussis? The Centers for Disease Control maintains an extensive compilation of information about pertussis on its web site: Most of the information in this letter was drawn from the CDC literature.