Written by Becky McGlauflin: DEXTER – Thirty cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, have been confirmed in the Ridge View Community School in Dexter as of Monday, according to Principal Mike Tracy. All of those children, however, were taken to their doctors very quickly and are being treated.
"We believe we are on the other end of it, although I'm certain that number will rise a bit because the test results are coming back now," said Tracy. He is optimistic because the absentee rate is back down to 18 percent after the high last week of 26 percent.
Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease of the upper respiratory system. It causes such severe coughing episodes that affected people find it almost impossible to catch their breath. When they are finally able to inhale, it creates a deep "whooping" sound. Initial symptoms are similar to the common cold and the coughing starts about 10-12 days later. The infection can last 10 weeks or more, and is sometimes called the "100-day cough."
The Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been working very closely with the Ridge View School, both on campus and through daily communication with the school nurse. They have checked vaccination records to see which students need booster shots of Tdap, the vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. They will be holding vaccination clinics at the Ridge View School and Dexter High School on Friday, Nov. 18 with permission from parents.
Contrary to popular belief, pertussis is a common disease in the United States, with epidemics every three to five years and outbreaks even more frequently. In 2010 there were 27,550 cases reported nationwide, and many more are either not diagnosed or not reported. The illness has been on the rise in Maine during 2011, particularly in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
According to a Maine CDC report, pertussis cases in Maine have more than tripled from last year during the same period.
Tom Lizotte, Director of Marketing and Development at Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft, said, "It happens every once in a while around here. People travel a lot more. All it takes is one family to vacation in Boston or New York, and then they bring it back and pass it along to their friends and family members."
"Public awareness is really important when you have something like this," said Kirsty Pratley, Infection Preventionist at Mayo Regional Hospital. The school has instructed parents of symptomatic children to have them evaluated and tested, and the doctor will decide whether to begin antibiotic treatment. An infected person needs to be on antibiotics for five full days before going back into public to avoid spreading it to others.
Pratley also stressed that if children have symptoms, parents need to keep them home even while waiting for test results. "In our society and our culture, it's hard to stay home. We're used to being out and about doing things all the time. That is one of the reasons that these outbreaks are so hard to control."
Hand hygiene is crucial in minimizing the outbreak's effect. "We have to remember that this is out in the community, not just in the school," Pratley said. "If folks have a cough, they need to cover it—with their sleeve, a tissue or their hand—and then wash their hands. Avoid people who are coughing. We call it respiratory hygiene," she explained.
The pertussis vaccine is mandatory for school enrollment, but parents should check to make sure their children are up-to-date on immunizations. "Just because folks have been vaccinated doesn't absolutely mean they will not get pertussis," Pratley cautions. "Even kids who have been vaccinated seem to be coming down with it." However, the disease tends to be less severe.
Prately says that right now the center of the outbreak is associated with the school, but expects to see it move out. "We'll probably be working with it for a little while," she said.
Tracy has been diligent about keeping parents informed. "My advice to all the parents is not to be alarmed, but that we need to work together and take the situation seriously," he said.
For more information on the disease, go to the Maine CDC website at http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/index.shtml and search for pertussis. "This content originally appeared as a copyrighted article in the SVWeekly.com and is used here with permission."
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