AUGUSTA, Maine — With summer vacation drawing closer and school-age children from other states and countries venturing to Maine for summer camp, the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned residents Thursday about the spread of pertussis, or whooping cough.
Eighty cases of whooping cough, which can cause serious illness and even be life-threatening, especially in infants, have been reported in 14 Maine counties between Jan. 1 and May 22, according to the health advisory issued by the CDC.
Maine’s number of whooping cough cases to date exceeds the five year median of 49 pertussis cases, according to the advisory released by Dr. Sheila Pinette, Maine CDC director, and Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist.
The majority of reported cases this year have occurred among persons age 7-19.
Lincoln has the highest rate in the state of 40.96 per 100,000 compared with the state’s case rate of 6.02 cases per 100,000.
Earlier this month in RSU 29 in Houlton, school nurses warned parents about symptoms of the illness after the CDC began investigating cases of whooping cough in the district. RSU 29 serves about 1,300 students from the towns of Houlton, Hammond, Littleton and Monticello.
Superintendent Mike Hammer said late Thursday afternoon that two elementary school students were confirmed to have had whooping cough earlier this month. He said the district implemented the protocols it has always had in its schools, such as encouraging students and staff to wash their hands frequently, cough and sneeze into their sleeves, and stay home if they felt ill.
The Maine CDC investigates all cases of whooping cough, and the agency recorded 332 cases of whooping cough in the state in 2013 and 737 cases in 2012. There were 205 cases reported in 2011 and only 53 in 2010.
Whooping cough is a highly communicable, vaccine-preventable disease that can last for many weeks. It is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory secretions of infected persons. Symptoms usually mimic a common cold and include a sore throat and runny nose, and it can often develop into a severe cough after a few weeks, according to the CDC.
The characteristic “whooping” sound that results when infected people gasp for air typically doesn’t appear until later in the illness. The cough can last for several weeks or more. Most children are vaccinated against the disease, but it is still possible for vaccinated children to become ill.