State health officials have identified an outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, in Hancock County.
According to a health advisory released by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday, eight cases have been reported in the Blue Hill and Brooksville area since Jan. 9. Affected individuals range in age from 9 to 50.
The announcement follows a similar advisory earlier this month about four cases of pertussis in schoolchildren in southern Maine.
In the Blue Hill area, the highly communicable bacterial disease has affected people at some schools and an unidentified work site, according to Thursday’s advisory.
School Union 93 nurse Deborah Candage said she has had no cases reported in the four public schools she covers, but that the Maine CDC has alerted her to the outbreak.
Pertussis is a potentially dangerous, vaccine-preventable disease that can last many weeks. It is transmitted by direct contact with respiratory secretions released by infected people when they cough or sneeze. Symptoms include episodes of violent coughing, sometimes followed by a “whooping” intake of breath. Coughing episodes also may trigger vomiting.
Especially for infants and the elderly, whooping cough can dangerously deplete blood oxygen levels and lead to serious complications.
Dr. Dora Mills, Maine CDC director, said Maine experiences clusters of whooping cough every winter.
“The number of cases goes up and down, but there are always two or three dozen at least,” she said. In the winter of 2004 and 2005, she said, about 200 cases reported.
Mills said the age group most commonly affected is teens and preteens whose childhood immunization has worn off and who have not received a booster shot. The booster vaccine is appropriate for individuals ages 7 to 65, she said.
People with symptoms of whooping cough should avoid contact with others. They should not attend school, work or day care or participate in recreational activities until they have been treated with an antibiotic.
“A hundred years ago, whooping cough was one of the leading causes of child death,” Mills said. Its relative rarity these days is due to the availability of an effective vaccine, she said.
Mills said rates of childhood immunization against whooping cough and other preventable illnesses are dropping because of continued concerns about a link between childhood vaccines and autism, a theory Mils and most public health officials vigorously reject.