Whooping Cough

MISSOULA - Three students at Sentinel High School in Missoula have tested positive for pertussis, more commonly referred to as whooping cough. 

School officials are working to identify other people who may have the highly contagious respiratory disease.

The following is a copy of an email from SHS Principal Ted Fuller: 

Dear Spartan Families,

I want to inform you that we have three current students who have tested positive for Pertussis.  Starting late last week and continuing now, we are identifying all "close contacts" of these students to determine any immediate action needed on your part to get medical care for your students.

The Health Department, in conjunction with our nursing staff,  investigates which individuals may have been exposed to Pertussis when a case has been confirmed. These people are considered “close contacts”. If a member of your family has been identified as someone who has been exposed, the health department will call you and send paperwork home with your student explaining the action you should take.

If your student brought paperwork home, but you have not spoken with a nurse yet, it is likely because they could not reach you when your student was screened at school. Please take your student to your health care provider’s office. If you do not have a regular health care provider, then take your student to an urgent care clinic in Missoula. Uninsured individuals should go to the Cost Care Clinic on Russell. If you are insured, you are free to seek care at any number of urgent care clinics (including Cost Care) in the Missoula area.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a type of bacteria. Pertussis 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.


  • 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.

Thank you,

Ted Fuller, Ed.D.

Principal – Sentinel High School

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