Doctor, health care

An additional case of whooping cough has been confirmed in Missoula County, bringing the total number of cases to seven this week. 

The Missoula City-County health department is still following up with more than 300 people who may have been exposed to the highly contagious disease. 

Whooping cough is a respiratory disease that can develop into a cough so severe that the person with the disease can cough to the point where they can't catch their breath. It can also cause vomiting from the severe coughing. 

This disease is particularly dangerous for younger children. According to Missoula Health officials, all seven cases confirmed are people between the ages four and 16. At least three of the cases are students from Sentinel High School. 

Missoula Health Department Director Ellen Leahy said they're interviewing hundreds of people who may have had close contact with the disease. 

"[The health department nurses] do individual interviews with everybody to see if they meet the definition of a close contact so I want to emphasize that. Going to the same school isn't necessarily going to expose a child to the disease. They have to be in about a three foot zone to the infectious person for a period of time before they would be considered possibly exposed."

Once a person becomes infected with whooping cough, it could take up to 21 days for symptoms to appear, according to Leahy. Symptoms in the beginning are usually mild, and can resemble those of a common cold. 

Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Fever
  • Cough

Mucus thickens inside a person's airways when infected, which can cause uncontrollable coughing. Coughing attacks can end with a "whoop" sound during the next breath of air. 

Leahy said it's important to get tested right away if you think you may have been exposed to the disease. You can get tested at a doctor's office or walk-in clinic if you develop symptoms.

You can call the health department's info line at 406-258-INFO if you have questions.

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