New pertussis cases are cropping up at an average of one a day this month in Kootenai County.
As of Monday, the Panhandle Health District reported 28 cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.
Normally, the health district might report half a dozen pertussis cases a month.
But even with the upsurge in victims this holiday season, it’s hardly the snowball effect that buried health workers during last spring’s outbreak.
Then, the health district counted 158 confirmed or probable pertussis victims. A later investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whittled that number down to 89 confirmed cases.
During that outbreak’s peak, the health district was receiving reports of 11 to 19 cases a day. This month, the peak seems to have hit two weeks ago when the health district reported 11 new cases in a week.
“It’s not looking the same, fortunately,” said Marie Rau, nursing supervisor for Panhandle Health.
A testing clinic Monday morning was fairly quiet, she said.
As the year draws to a close, however, Idaho has earned the dubious distinction of having the most pertussis cases per capita in the nation. A large number of them were in North Idaho.
As of mid-December, Idaho led the nation with 573 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, and a rate of 48.2 cases per 100,000 population, according to the CDC.
Prior to this year, Idaho’s worst pertussis outbreaks were at the end of 1994 and early 1995, when 173 cases were reported in the Panhandle. Another outbreak in 1993 struck 80 people in North Idaho.
While many blame Idaho’s poor immunization rate for the high number of pertussis cases, it’s only a partial explanation.
Idaho has a 68 percent immunization rate, but immunizations don’t always prevent kids from getting whooping cough. Of the confirmed cases CDC studied, 80 percent of the victims were fully immunized.
A recent survey of children enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children program found that 88 percent were vaccinated.
Rau suspects that Idaho may be more vigilant in tracking the disease, particularly since the outbreak last spring. Spokane County health officials haven’t reported any cases this month.
“It’s always out there, it’s just not being diagnosed,” Rau said. “We’re always looking for it and always concerned about it.”
Because pertussis symptoms are so similar to a cold, it’s difficult to diagnose. Adults and children often continue their regular day-to-day activities, spreading pertussis germs, unaware that they’ve got anything worse than a common cold.
“You really can’t put your finger on pertussis,” Rau said, adding that the tests are not exact. “People don’t come in with a big blue ‘P’ on their forehead.”
As mild as the symptoms seem, pertussis can be deadly. A Post Falls infant died from pertussis last spring.
Vaccinations, while not 100 percent effective, can lessen the intensity of the disease and help prevent outbreaks. Isolation and antibiotics can slow or stop its spread.
Rau said one of the biggest problems in fighting the disease is that many people lack medical insurance.
“Sometimes they’re spending their Christmas money on antibiotics,” she said.
The health district does not issue antibiotics, but instead advises people who test positive for pertussis to see a doctor.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WORST IN NATION As of mid-December, Idaho led the nation with 573 cases of pertussis and a rate of 48.2 cases per 100,000 population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New cases are cropping up an average of one a day this month in Kootenai County.