Montana responds to largest pertussis outbreak since 2005

A pertussis, or whooping cough, outbreak in Montana has spread to more than 200 people, marking the state's highest number of laboratory-confirmed cases since 2005.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services recently reported that a total of 210 cases of the infectious respiratory illness have been confirmed in 18 counties, according to

Public health officials in the state expressed concern that the number of cases will continue to increase unless people take action to protect themselves and others. In particular, officials said that the illness can be prevented through vaccination.

In western Montana, officials are encouraging everyone overdue to get the immunization, and anyone with pertussis-like symptoms to seek treatment.

The disease initially resembles a cold in most cases, but can quickly turn more serious, especially in cases involving infants. More than half of diagnosed infants require hospitalization.

"We continue to see cases of pertussis and most are preventable," Anna Whiting Sorrell, the state health director, said, reports. "Making sure parents and caregivers are up to date on their vaccines is our best long-term strategy. Anyone caring for children can take advantage of the vaccine to prevent spreading pertussis."

In Ravalli County, which has seen the highest number of cases during the outbreak, public health nurse LuAnn Burgmuller said residents are being vaccinated in large numbers.

"We are urging anyone with a persistent cough to be checked out, and everyone should take the time to look at their immunization records," Sorrell said, reports. "I really think that if any good is coming out of this it's that we have seen a real uptick in people coming in to get their boosters, particularly older people. So that is a plus."