Maine continues to have sky-high rates of pertussis, with 41 new cases in March and more than twice as many cases in the first quarter of 2019 as in the same period last year.

Maine had 136 cases of pertussis through March 2019, compared with 59 in the same time period last year, according to data released Friday by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2018 numbers – 446 for the entire year – were the worst per-capita rate in the nation.

Recent outbreaks have occurred at Falmouth High School, Thornton Academy and other schools. Maine’s pertussis rate is 33.16 per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. CDC, more than eight times the national average of 4.13.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a bacterial infection that produces a violent cough that can trigger vomiting and exhaustion. Babies too young to be vaccinated and the elderly are especially vulnerable to serious cases, which may require hospitalization and can lead to death. The cough can linger for up to 10 weeks and is treated with antibiotics.

The pertussis vaccine’s effectiveness wanes over time, which is why pediatricians recommend a booster shot in middle school. Though Maine now requires the booster for incoming seventh-graders, it was among the last states in the nation to add the middle school booster, in 2017-18.

Despite the vaccine’s less-than-perfect effectiveness, getting immunized is the best protection against the disease, scientific research has shown. Those who do contract pertussis despite being immunized have milder symptoms and are less likely to be hospitalized.

Maine lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban all non-medical exemptions from vaccinations for children to attend school. Maine now permits parents to opt out of having their children vaccinated on religious or philosophic grounds, if there is no valid medical reason to do so. The bill would only allow medical exemptions, which make up about 0.2 percent of all opt-outs. Maine has had one of the worst kindergarten opt-out rates in the country over the past several years.

The Maine CDC reported that of the March pertussis cases, more than 50 percent occurred in the 11-19 age bracket.

In addition to getting the vaccine, the Maine CDC advised practicing good hygiene because pertussis “spreads by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: joelawlorph

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