Whooping cough sickens area children and adults

Posted Sept. 22, 2011, at 5:58 p.m.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears
Photo from Maine.gov
State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears

BREWER, Maine — Cases of whooping cough are making the rounds in Maine schools and homes, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and parents should be on the lookout for symptoms.

“If children are feeling sick and develop a chronic cough, they should be checked,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears.

Of the approximately 95 confirmed cases of whooping cough reported this year in Maine, 40 have been in Penobscot County, Sears said.

At the new Brewer Community School, five children have been diagnosed with whooping cough in the past two weeks, said Superintendent Dan Lee. Four of the affected youngsters are in fourth grade and one is in fifth grade.

Acting on the advice of the Maine CDC, letters were sent home to parents. Children in classes where more than one student had been sickened were given a preventive five-day course of antibiotics, Lee said.

All of the children who got whooping cough had been immunized against it when they were younger, he said.

Whooping cough, more formally called pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the lungs that typically causes coldlike symptoms and prolonged episodes of severe coughing. It is highly contagious and especially dangerous to infants and very young children who have not completed the series of protective immunizations.

Cases of whooping cough have been on the rise across the nation for several years, primarily in children who have not been immunized and in teenagers and adults whose immunity has faded.

A recent study found that immunization may weaken as soon as three or four years after completing the routine childhood vaccine series recommended by the U.S. CDC, significantly earlier than previously thought. Sears said Thursday that other research does not support this finding, but that children should still get a booster shot when they are about 11 years old. Adults also should get pertussis boosters every 10 years, he said, preferably at the same time they update their tetanus shots.

For more about whooping cough prevention, symptoms and treatment, visit the website of the U.S. CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis.

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