February 28, 2020
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Bangor High School warns of student’s infection with whooping cough

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor High School has alerted parents to a case of whooping cough, just days after reports of the highly contagious respiratory disease in far northern Maine.

A parent notified the school on Friday that a student was infected with the illness, according to Bangor High School Principal Paul Butler. The school notified parents in a memo that was sent home with students Friday afternoon, he said.

Issued “out of an abundance of caution,” the memo was accompanied by a letter from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention about the illness and its symptoms, he said.

So far, no other students appear to have been infected, Butler said.

Last week, Maine CDC issued a health advisory reminding schools and health providers to be on the lookout for whooping cough, with school-age children planning to convene at summer camps and visitors from other states and countries venturing to Maine for the season.

Eighty cases of whooping cough, which can spread through the coughing and sneezing of an infected person, were reported in 14 Maine counties between Jan. 1 and May 22, according to the health advisory. The majority of cases occurred among Mainers between 7 and 19 years old.

Lincoln County had the highest infection rate in the state of 40.96 cases per 100,000 residents, compared with the state average of 6.02 cases.

Maine’s recording about five or six new cases of pertussis a week, according to Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist. That’s concerning, though down from a peak in 2012, when Maine recorded nearly 750 cases of the disease amid a national outbreak, he said.

“We’re still seeing it,” Sears said. “It is not as high a rate as we saw two years ago.”

Earlier this month, school nurses in Regional School Unit 29 in Houlton warned parents about the illness after Maine CDC began investigating cases of whooping cough in the district. Two elementary school students were confirmed to have had whooping cough.

A couple of cases also were recorded in western Maine last week, Sears said.

Pertussis is preventable with a vaccine, though some vaccinated children still catch the disease. The vaccine wears off over time, but it slashes the risk of catching and spreading the disease and generally leads to a milder case, according to health officials.

While initial immunization rates are high among children, some miss the required Tdap booster shot administered at age 11, Sears said.

The unrelenting cough caused by the disease can prove life-threatening to infants, who may catch the disease from a loved one who was never vaccinated or failed to stay current with booster shots.

The first symptoms of whooping cough appear similar to the common cold, including a sore throat and runny nose, followed by a severe cough developing after a few weeks.


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