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Missoula health department ups staffing amidst pertussis outbreak

MISSOULA – Local health officials say they have been working longer hours to keep up with the number of phone calls from parents concerned about the pertussis outbreak that’s hitting the Missoula area.

The Missoula City-County Health Department reported on Monday that there are now 52 confirmed whooping cough cases. Pertussis cases have been confirmed in several Missoula County Public Schools — including Big Sky, Hellgate and Sentinel high schools.

Whooping cough cases have also been reported the Florence, Frenchtown and Lolo school districts. The Health Department is working closely with schools to identify close contacts of confirmed cases.

Missoula City-County Health Department Immunization Clinic Manager Colleen Morris says they’ve been getting lots of calls from worried parents so they’ve asked part-time nurses to work full time for the next couple of weeks to help handle the outbreak.

“We would like to have a more timely response and we understand that the public might be getting a little bit frustrated with not hearing directly from us or not being able to get ahold of an infectious disease nurse right away because they’re out at the schools interviewing contacts,” Morris explained.

She added that adults who have received the T-DAP vaccine should not need a booster, and children can still get the vaccine any time.

People can call the health department at (406) 258-4770 to check your records or get general information. A dedicated webpage with pertussis information has also been established to relay the latest information.


Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a type of bacteria. It can affect people of all ages but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old.

Pertussis symptoms can appear differently and be less severe in vaccinated individuals, but can still be contagious.

Symptoms

  • Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After coughing fits, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths, which result in a “whooping” sound.
  • Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 5 to 10 days after you are exposed. Sometimes pertussis symptoms do not develop for as long as 3 weeks.
    Early Symptoms
  • The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. In babies, the cough can be minimal or nonexistent.
  • Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include runny nose, low-grade fever, mild, occasional cough, or Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)
  • Pertussis in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold.

Later-stage Symptoms

  • After 1 to 2 weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include fits of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound, throwing up during or after coughing fits, and exhaustion.

Pertussis in Babies

  • It is important to know that many babies with pertussis don’t cough at all. Instead it causes them to stop breathing and turn blue.

How and When to Get Help

  • If you are experiencing symptoms of Pertussis, see your provider right away.
  • If you or a family member has been identified as exposed, you will receive instructions from the Health Department.
  • The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated. Make sure that you and your family are up to date on your immunizations.
  • If you need information on your immunization status, contact your provider or the Health Department.

Need to get vaccinated?

The Missoula City-County Health Department, located at 301 West Alder St., carries the Pertussis vaccine (DTaP & Tdap) and can bill most insurance plans, including Medicaid. They offer a sliding fee scale for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Call the Immunization Clinic at 406-258-3363 for more information. The clinic offers walk-in hours at the following times: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday
10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

If you have not been contacted by the Health Department, no action is needed at this point. If you have additional questions, please contact (406) 258-INFO.

Katie Miller

Katie Miller

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