KENNEBUNK — The Middle School of the Kennebunks has canceled its annual community Thanksgiving dinner for fear of whooping cough exposure.

The popular event, which has drawn up to 400 people in past years, was scheduled to be held Wednesday at the school, but a decision was made by RSU 21 to cancel the meal because of newly identified student cases of whooping cough.

“As many of you are aware, we began the school year with several cases of pertussis, also known as ‘Whooping Cough’ at MSK.” Dr. Phillip J. Potenziano, RSU 21 assistant superintendent of schools wrote in an open letter to the community. “Pertussis is most concerning when it occurs in newborns, the elderly, or those who have compromised immune systems. While our cases of pertussis at MSK have leveled off, we are continuing to have newly identified student cases, and as a result, we have decided to postpone the annual community Thanksgiving dinner.”

Potenziano said that the decision was made after consulting with school nurse Michelle Taggert, and school physician Dr. Donald Burgess, as well as the Maine Center for Disease Control.

“We simply do not want to risk exposing even one member of our community who might have a compromised immune system and perhaps more importantly, we do not wish to exclude people from this wonderful community event,” Potenziano wrote. “To that end, we are planning a Welcome Spring Luncheon to be held on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Thank you for understanding as we strive to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

The community Thanksgiving dinner is held every November at the Middle School of the Kennebunks on Thompson Road and draws parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who eat a traditional turkey dinner while mingling with eighth-grade students.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, pertussis is a respiratory illness commonly known as whooping cough that is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria.

Pertussis can be spread from person to person through the air and an individual can catch pertussis by standing less than 3 feet away from an infected person who is coughing or sneezing. Maine CDC says that a person has to breathe in droplets from an infected person to get sick.

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