The Missoula City-County Health Department is currently investigating six cases of pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough, in the Missoula area. Pertussis is spread by respiratory droplets and it is considered highly contagious. Health Department Director Ellen Leahy says ages for the confirmed cases range from preschool through teenager and one case required hospitalization.

“We have identified about 300 close contacts related to those six cases and we are working individually with them,” Leahy said. “We have five tests pending at the state lab today (Wednesday). We will see if those suspect case are going to confirm out as pertussis or not. We won’t get those results until the end of the day.”

If those all come back negative, Leahy says they just keep following up on the cases they already have. If any of those come back positive, they have to start a new process and notify all others who may have been exposed. Leahy explained some of the symptoms associated with whooping cough.

“Sniffles, runny nose, low-grade fever, and then a cough are all symptoms,” Leahy said. “As it progresses, that cough gets worse and worse. The fits of coughing can be so difficult for people to endure that they can’t catch their breath. They can make a whooping sound when they are trying to draw the air back in and that is actually why it is called whooping cough.”

Anyone experiencing those symptoms should contact their healthcare provider or go to a walk-in clinic for testing. Residents are also encouraged to check their vaccination status by calling their doctor or the health department’s Immunization Clinic. Leahy says it will not be helpful for parents to call and ask if their kid has been in close contact because they notify all parents based on each individual case. For other questions about whooping cough, please call the health department information line at 406-258-INFO.