An outbreak of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is occurring in Gallatin County. State, local and tribal public health agencies are encouraging Montanans to make sure they are up-to-date with pertussis vaccinations.
So far in 2011, 101 cases of pertussis have been reported in Montana. The last 24 cases have been diagnosed in Gallatin County residents in the last two weeks. This is a public health threat that could spread beyond Gallatin County. Two other cases have been reported in Park County but it’s not certain these are related to the Gallatin outbreak.
Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that is especially dangerous for infants. When not fully immunized, infants are especially vulnerable to infection and are at risk for hospitalization and death. A typical case of pertussis in children and adults starts with a cough and runny nose that lasts for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a “whooping” sound. Coughing can be severe with gagging and vomiting. Older children and adults may not exhibit the classic symptoms and can have a milder illness.
Vaccination is the best prevention against pertussis. Combination vaccines approved for children and adults also protect against Diphtheria and Tetanus. Pertussis vaccination begins at age two months, but young infants are not adequately protected until three shots are received by six months of age. Because protection from the vaccine can fade over time, a booster is recommended for pre-teens, teens, and adults.
Because pertussis outbreaks can spread rapidly, health agencies work quickly to investigate each pertussis case. Persons who have close contact with a pertussis case may be treated with antibiotics to prevent illness. Fully vaccinated children and adults are less likely to become ill. If illness occurs in those that are fully vaccinated, the illness is generally milder. Montana’s last reported death from pertussis was in a Gallatin county infant in 2004. A recent outbreak of pertussis in California resulted in 10 infant deaths.
Detailed information regarding pertussis and pertussis vaccinations is available online at cdc.gov/pertussis/