Thursday, November 10, 2011


 There have been about 150 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) reported in Maine so far in 2011, compared with 53 for all of 2010 and 80 in 2009. About 64% of 2011 cases have been in residents of Penobscot County. Clusters of pertussis have been reported in schools, camps, sport teams, and workplaces.

Pertussis is a highly communicable, vaccine-preventable respiratory disease that can last for many weeks. It is spread from person to person through the air.  The first signs of pertussis are similar to a cold (sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever, and a cough).  After one or two weeks, the cough gets worse.  For example:
  • The cough occurs in sudden, uncontrollable bursts where one cough follows the next without a break for breath.
  • Many children will make a high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode.  Whooping is less common in infants and adults.
  • After a coughing spell, the person may throw up.
  • The person may look blue in the face and have a hard time breathing. 
  • The cough is often worse at night.
  • Between coughing spells, the person seems well, but the illness is exhausting over time.
  • Over time, coughing spells become less frequent, but may continue for several weeks or months.

Pertussis can be very serious, especially in infants. The most common complication of pertussis is bacterial pneumonia. Rare complications include seizures, inflammation of the brain, and death.

Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics, but treatment may not cure the coughing right away.

The most effective way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination with DTaP for infants and children and with Tdap for pre-teens, teens, and adults. Clinicians should check the vaccine status of their patients to make sure they are up to date for their age. A summary of pertussis vaccine recommendations broken down by age and other life factors is available at

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