April 08, 2020
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Whooping cough outbreak reported in Maine schools

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York High School in York, Maine.

YORK, Maine — Six cases of whooping cough have been reported in the York schools since the beginning of June, but school officials said they have been proactive in notifying parents and staff and providing information about actions to be taken.

The cases in York are among three “outbreaks” in York County since the beginning of the year, said Emily Spencer of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. An outbreak is defined as three cases or more in a facility within 21 days of each case.

There was an outbreak in the Sanford School Department in April. Just recently, more than 30 cases of whooping cough have been reported at Exeter High School in New Hampshire.

Assistant Superintendent Anita Bernhardt said York has had six laboratory-confirmed cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, between Coastal Ridge Elementary School, York Middle School and York High School during June. The final day of school in York is Tuesday, June 26.

“These students have been treated by medical professionals,” she said. “The schools have communicated with parents about these cases and have shared information about pertussis and actions to prevent and respond to the signs of illness.”

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, pertussis is a respiratory illness caused by bacteria and is spread through coughing and sneezing. It usually begins with symptoms of the common cold and can develop into a severe cough. Most children are vaccinated against pertussis, but it is possible for vaccinated people to become ill. It is very contagious and can pose a serious threat to infants.

It is unknown if the cases in York involved students or adults, said Spencer, as the CDC only aggregates statistics regarding age at the state level. As soon as it became known there were cases in York, the CDC notified school administrators who in turn immediately sent out guidance promulgated by the state.

According to the letter sent to parents, guardians and staff, parents were advised to seek medical treatment if a child has a severe cough or a prolonged cough lasting two weeks or longer. The illness can be treated with antibiotics but children have to remain home during the course of treatment. They were also advised to make sure children are up to date with pertussis vaccines.

Maine had the third highest pertussis rate in the country of 18.3 per 100,000 people in 2016, the last year for nationwide comparison by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last fall for the first time, Maine required pertussis booster shots for all incoming seventh-graders, which could decrease the number of cases over time.

Spencer said rates have dropped in 2018 as compared to previous years. As of June 18, Maine has reported 149 cases, compared to 228 in 2017, with a five-year median of 186. “Pertussis is cyclical in nature, so we do expect there to be increases every now and then.”

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