HEALTH ALERT: Update on pertussis (whooping cough) in Maine

We are sharing the following letter from the Maine Center for Disease Control, to whom we defer on all public health issues. Please share this letter with school principals and school nurses.

Maine, like many other states, has been experiencing an increasing number of pertussis (whooping cough) cases over the past year. During January 1 to August 23, 2012, 411 pertussis cases have been reported to Maine CDC from all 16 Maine counties. This number far exceeds the 85 reported pertussis cases during the same period in 2011 and the total number of reported cases that year (205). In Maine, the majority of cases have been in those age 7 to 19 years.

Pertussis 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. Classic pertussis symptoms include intense coughing fits, whoop, and coughing until vomiting. Vaccinated cases of pertussis often have a milder course of illness with only a long cough duration.

Additional detail for nurses: Classic pertussis symptoms include paroxysmal cough, whoop and posttussive vomiting. Pertussis patients with a history of vaccine often have a milder course of illness with only a long cough duration. Pertussis can cause serious illness and can even be life-threatening, especially in infants.  Immunity to pertussis following infection is not lifelong. Persons with a history of pertussis should continue to receive pertussis-containing vaccines according to the recommended schedule. Because vaccination is not 100 percent effective and immunity wanes over time, even fully vaccinated persons can become infected with pertussis.

Maine CDC encourages all schools to inform parents at back-to-school events of the increase in pertussis. Parents should make sure all students are up-to-date on pertussis-containing vaccines. School nurses are encouraged to make sure all students are up-to-date. Maine CDC will notify school nurses of cases of pertussis that are reported to us from their schools, and those students should be excluded from school until they have completed five days of  an appropriate antibiotic. A weekly pertussis surveillance report is completed each Thursday and will be emailed to all school nurses. The pertussis report is posted every Thursday at Additionally, all outbreaks of illness resulting in 15 percent school absenteeism need to be reported to the Department of Education through the Maine Education Data Management System (MEDMS).

Maine CDC appreciates the invaluable work of schools, and we look forward to working with you this coming year.

For any questions please call Maine CDC at 1-800-821-5821

2 thoughts on “HEALTH ALERT: Update on pertussis (whooping cough) in Maine

  1. Susan, thanks for your question. We asked Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist with the Maine CDC, to whom we turn on all public health matters, to respond. Here’s what he said:

    We encourage all adults to get a one-time dose of Tdap. This is generally covered by their own insurance. If the schools have interest in pursuing Tdap clinics we are happy to discuss this and lend support where we can.

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