CASPER, Wyo. — There have been five confirmed cases of pertussis — or whooping cough — reported in Campbell County over the past week, according to the state Department of Health.
The illness is a bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system and is most dangerous for infants. There are likely more than just five cases in Campbell County, Health Department epidemiologist Clayton Van Houten said earlier this week, adding that the illness has been found in a "couple family clusters" thus far.
"What we’re finding when we’re investigating is some of the family members, friends, and relatives have been sick with symptoms that were very likely pertussis going back about a month," he told the Star-Tribune. "It's likely probably been in the community for a month or so, and we’re just now getting some of the (confirmation)."
None of the cases confirmed in Campbell County have involved babies, Van Houten added. Those cases usually involve hospitalization and sometimes can result in death. There have been recent hospitalizations in Wyoming related to pediatric cases, though there have been no reported deaths.
Statewide there have been 13 cases of pertussis so far this year. That number can fluctuate significantly from year to year, Van Houten said. In 2018, there 62 cases. In 2017, there were just 18. In 2016, there were 21.
Whooping cough typically begins with cold-like symptoms, according to the Health Department, and a mild cough. After a week or two, a "persistent cough with spasms" begins. Children or babies sick with pertussis "can cough violently and rapidly with a loud 'whooping' sound," according to the department.
Pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease, Van Houten said, though the vaccine weakens as a person grows older. He stressed that people should talk to their doctors about getting booster shots.
Whooping cough in recent years has shifted from a disease primarily affecting children to one that hits teenagers and adults. That's thanks to the emphasis on getting children vaccinated against the illness.
Van Houten said the disease is not as infectious as measles and can spread to those who have been vaccinated. He said there is not yet evidence that there's clusters in Campbell County relating to a school, daycare or similar location. While other parts of the country have struggled with measles outbreaks this year, Wyoming has remained measles-free; indeed, there hasn't been a case here since 2010, when a student who recently moved to the state was confirmed to have contracted the illness.
That's primarily how measles enters communities in the United States, via people traveling or returning from countries where vaccination is rarer and measles more common. Whooping cough, however, is just out there, Van Houten said.
"We don’t see measles, we don’t see mumps," he said. "But we do see a fair amount of pertussis."
The illness is bacterial and can be treated with antibiotics.
Meanwhile, in western Montana's Missoula, whooping cough cases have sprouted up recently, according to local media reports. As of Friday, there were at least 89 cases of the illness there, affecting a dozen different schools and prompting health officials to request more help from nurses.