Whooping cough reaches USM

Posted on September 19, 2012 in News
By Alex Greenlee

The Maine Center for Disease Control is investigating the first reported case of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in a residential student in Gorham after a positive test was returned on Monday.

Lisa Belanger, director of Health Services at USM, said the student is recuperating at home and is expected back at school soon.

According to state epidemiologist Stephen Sears, the student has a very typical case of the bacterial infection pertussis and it should be taken as a warning to everyone at USM that precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of infection. “One might receive a vaccination as an adolescent, but 60 to 65 percent of adults have not yet been vaccinated against pertussis” Sears said. “It is highly contagious and is passed through face-to-face contact.”

Maine has seen nearly five times as many cases of whooping cough this year as compared to 2011, with over 300 of the nearly 500 total cases statewide being reported in children and teens between the ages of 7 and 19. Cumberland county alone has seen 150 of the total number of reported cases, a rate of 209 per 100,000 residents which is 30 times the average national incidence.

Sears urged everyone on campus to review their vaccination records and if necessary get what is known as a Tdap vaccine to prevent further risk. The university adheres to the minimum vaccination requirements of Maine state law which does not mandate a vaccination against whooping cough, although this vaccine is strongly recommended by the American College Health Association. Belanger said that it is too early to say whether the Tdap will be added to the list of mandatory vaccinations at USM but that the policies are reviewed often.

According to the Maine CDC, the first signs of pertussis are similar to a cold with sneezing, runny nose, fever, and a cough being the most common symptoms. After one or two weeks the cough gets worse and occurs in sudden, uncontrollable bursts. Anyone with these symptoms is urged to see their physician for a test as soon as possible.

Sears said the proximity of students in a dorm setting is concerning especially with students sharing the same room but reiterated that “It’s not just a campus issue, but an issue for the whole community. We’re so concerned with pertussis because it can be fatal in infants.”