A statewide outbreak of whooping cough in which infection rates more than tripled in 2012 appears to be on the decline, according to officials from the Maine Center for Disease Control.
In Somerset County, which had the highest per capita rate of pertussis in 2012, only one case has been reported this year, said Pinette. The CDC does not release geographic information beyond what county a case is reported in, but North Anson-based School Administrative District 74 Superintendent Ken Coville said the center confirmed an infection in the district that was reported on Jan. 23.
“It appears to have been an isolated case and there is no evidence of any other cases in the school community or the larger population,” Coville said Friday.
Statewide, reported cases of whooping cough are down from 737 in 2012 to an estimated 332 in 2013, according to Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control. There have been 19 cases reported around the state in January.
The decline in pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, stems from an increase in the number of vaccines administered as well as the natural cycle of the disease, which tends to manifest in higher rates of infection every three to five years, said Pinette. The 2012 outbreak was the largest in Maine since 1959.
“It looks pretty low compared to the previous year, but we have to recall that in 2012 we had a major outbreak nationwide and now we’ve started seeing a drop,” said Pinette.
In the 1950s there was a push to get a vaccination against the disease, although that was followed by a period of public outcry in the 1970s and â€˜80s following reports of children having side effects from vaccinations, she said. Pertussis numbers have steadily increased as a result, she said.
At the end of 2012, Somerset County had the second highest number of reported infections, with 102 cases, said Pinette.
Pertussis is characterized by symptoms similar to a cold such as sneezing, runny nose, and fever that develop into uncontrollable bursts of coughing that can induce vomiting or cause difficulty breathing. It is spread through the air and can be contagious in an infected person for a period of about three weeks, according to the CDC.
The infected girl attending school in SAD 74 has pre-existing medical conditions that may have made her more susceptible to the disease, said Coville.
She was not in school because of the other condition during the time that whooping cough would have been contagious, he said, yet the district is still encouraging parents to vaccinate their children and take all precautions again pertussis, which may not show symptoms in every person carrying the disease.
Preventive measures such as vaccination are key to the decline of whooping cough, said Pinette. She said it is the most common respiratory illness that is preventable with vaccination.
“We know that in our state the numbers of people getting vaccinated have improved,” she said. “It’s getting the message out to parents, schools and primary care providers about the importance of it.”
Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 [email protected]