Missoula Story of the Week: Pertussis Outbreak in the Bitterroot


The whooping cough outbreak that began earlier this month in a Bitterroot parochial elementary school has spread to other educational institutions in the valley.

Health officials have been forced to ban all non-immunized students from attending classes and school functions, according to KPAX.com.

Thursday’s Missoulian reported that “the number of confirmed cases of whooping cough in the Bitterroot Valley jumped to 27 Wednesday, including three cases at Ravalli Head Start in Hamilton.”

Whooping cough is, according to the Center for Disease Control, ”an acute infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. In the 20th century, pertussis was one of the most common childhood diseases and a major cause of childhood mortality in the United States.”

Clinically referred to as pertussis, whooping cough can often go unnoticed in infants because their cough is sometimes almost non-existent, but the disease may cause apnea or short stoppages in breathing according to the CDC. In children and adults the disease starts much like a cold, but after one to two weeks it can “cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and (patients) are forced to inhale with a loud ‘whooping sound’,” according to the health agency.

A Pertussis outbreak has forced school closures in Ravalli County.

The disease’s symptoms are serious enough for officials in the valley to ban students who have not been immunized against it from attending school.

However, Ravalli County public health nurse Judy Griffin “has been fielding calls from parents, many of whom are upset with the decision to not allow their kids to go to school”, as reported in a Missoulian story. According to the article, “Many of the students that were banned from school had immunization exemptions for religious reasons.”

The spread of the outbreak and the severity of the disease prompted Ravalli County public health nurse Judy Griffin to educate callers upset over the ban. Griffin told the Missoulian “once people hear the facts” they seem to “understand” the precautions health officials have decided to take.


Each week, Tom Diddel recaps the week’s most talked-about story in Missoula. Visit the Make it Missoula News & Opinion section for more talk of the town.


Tom Diddel has lived in Missoula on and off for nearly thirty-eight years. He enjoys skiing, hiking, and many other outdoor activities. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Montana and is currently working as a Freelance Writer and a Para-Educator.