More cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have been confirmed in Missoula, enough for the Director of the Missoula County Health Department Ellen Leahy to confirm what she termed ‘a community wide outbreak’.

“We got 10 new positive tests, so that’s 10 new cases last night and that brings our Missoula total to 24 cases,” said Leahy. “We’ve been very busy trying to identify close contacts with all of those folks and follow up with what all of their healthcare needs are and to answer any questions they may have.”

Leahy said the outbreak has grown beyond a couple of schools and families.

“We clearly have a community-wide outbreak,” she said. “Early on we had families where the majority of the family had the cases. Of course, they go to different schools and attend different events throughout the community, so it can look like its community wide in terms of contacts, but if you look at the actual confirmed cases, it wasn’t. At this point, though, it is community wide. The cases are not restricted or confined to any one particular area. They’re still largely affecting children, but we are adding more adults to the list.”

Leahy said with a community-wide outbreak there are specific protocols required by the Centers for Disease Control.

“We simply notify, we check for symptoms, and if anyone in the family has symptoms we advise them to get in for healthcare,” she said. “Otherwise we instruct the family members on what the symptoms are and how and when they should go seek care.”

Leahy said she has received at least one call from an individual who sought care for what they suspected might be pertussis, but were not tested by their healthcare provider.

“There are some cases where the disease was not recognized or diagnosed,” she said. “One the one hand, when you’re in cough, flue and cold season that can be understandable, but as we investigate further we are certainly finding cases that are at the end of a couple of months of illness,” she said. “It would have been good to catch those cases earlier because the earlier you catch any case, the less transmission there will be.”

Pertussis begins with symptoms of a bad cold, but then develops into violent coughing that can actually have the patient fighting for breaths between coughs, making a ‘whooping’ sound, which is where the term ‘whooping cough’ originated.

Contact the Missoula City County Health Department if you suspect that you or a family member may have pertussis by calling 258-INFO, that’s 258-4636.