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Important Health Information
Important Health Information
Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere
Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Important Health Information

March 11, 2020

Dear Parent(s) or Guardians,

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) has asked the Sanford School Department to notify parents of two confirmed cases of pertussis also known as (whooping cough) at Carl J. Lamb Elementary School.   

Pertussis is an illness that is spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing.  Pertussis usually begins with symptoms of a common cold (sore throat and runny nose) and often develops into a severe cough.  The cough can last for several weeks or more.  Most children are vaccinated against pertussis but it is still possible for vaccinated children to become ill.  Babies are most at risk of serious illness.

Individuals who are not symptomatic (i.e. not coughing) do not need to be excluded from activities and do not need to be tested.  Antibiotics are not routinely recommended for casual contacts of pertussis cases, but may be recommended to household members.

To prevent the spread of pertussis in our community, we are making the following recommendations:

1.  If your child has a severe cough (may include coughing to the point of gagging, vomiting after coughing or difficulty breathing) or a prolonged cough lasting 2 weeks or longer, please contact your health care provider.  If your provider suspects pertussis, they will obtain a specimen to be sent for pertussis testing.

2.  Children/adults with severe cough, prolonged cough or confirmed pertussis will be started on antibiotics and will need to remain at home for 5 days while taking these antibiotics.

3.  Please check with your medical provider to be sure you and your child are up to date on pertussis vaccine.  Most children have had the vaccine before the age of 7 years, but their immunity to the disease may gradually wane over time.   Booster shots (Tdap) are now recommended for children 11-18 years old.  A single Tdap shot is also recommended for adults, especially adults who have contact with infants and young children.  A Tdap booster is recommended with every pregnancy.

If you have further questions, please contact your school nurse or the Maine CDC at 1-800-821-5821.

Pertussis Fact Sheet

What is pertussis?

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis can be very serious, especially in infants. It mainly affects the breathing.

 What are the signs of pertussis?

The first signs of pertussis are similar to a cold (sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever, and a cough). These signs start 5 to 21 days after exposure. After one or two weeks of illness, the cough gets worse with symptoms that may include:  

~A sudden, uncontrollable cough where one cough follows the next without a break for breath.

~A high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode. Whooping is less common in infants and adults.

~Vomiting after coughing

~Exhaustion

Over time, coughing spells become less frequent, but may continue for several weeks or months.

 How do you catch pertussis?

Pertussis is spread from person to person through the air. A person has to breathe in droplets from an infected person to get sick. For example, a person may catch pertussis by standing close (less than 3 feet away) to an infected person who is coughing or sneezing. 

 When and for how long can a person spread pertussis?

Pertussis is most likely to spread to others early in the illness. Persons with pertussis can no longer spread the disease once they have completed 5 days of treatment with antibiotics. However, persons with pertussis who do not take antibiotics can spread the disease during the first 21 days they are sick.

What are the complications?

Severe pertussis is more likely in infants than in older children or adults. The most common complication of pertussis is pneumonia.  Seizures, swelling of the brain and death are rare but possible.

Who gets pertussis?

People of all ages can get pertussis, even people who have been vaccinated or have had pertussis infection in the past.  It is most common in school-aged children and teenagers, but cases in adults also occur. Older children and adults usually have less severe illness, but they can still spread the disease to infants and young children.

Is there any treatment?

Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics.  Treatment should be started early to prevent the spread to others and can lessen the symptoms of illness. A cough may continue for many weeks after treatment especially if treatment was not started until late in the illness. Pertussis bacteria die off naturally after three weeks of coughing.  Antibiotics are not recommended if a person has already been coughing for 21 days or more. 

Why did my healthcare provider tell me or my child to stay home for 5 days?

You can still spread pertussis to others until you take 5 days of antibiotics. Disease can spread quickly in schools or the workplace. 

What will happen if I do not want to take the antibiotics?

If you do not take the antibiotics, you will need to stay away from others for 21 days after you start to become sick. This includes staying home from daycare, school, work or events. 

Is there a lab test for pertussis? 

Yes. To test for pertussis, your healthcare provider may insert a swab (like a long Q-tip) into your nose.  The lab will test the material on the swab to see if they can find the bacteria that causes pertussis. 

Is there a vaccine for pertussis?

Yes, there are vaccines. The childhood vaccine is called Tdap, and the Pertussis booster for adolescents and adults is called Tdap.

People who catch pertussis after being vaccinated have milder illness and are much less likely to be hospitalized or die from the disease.

Vaccines prevent 200,000 cases of pertussis each year in the US. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated against pertussis. 

How can pertussis be prevented?

Vaccinate all children on time. Speak with your healthcare provider to see if you should get a booster vaccine. This is the best way to prevent pertussis. 

 Other ways to prevent pertussis are to:

  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick or coughing
  • Wash your hands often
  • Stay at home if you are ill
  • Cover your cough with a tissue or cough into your sleeve
  • Use routine cleaners and disinfectants to remove these bacteria from surfaces or objects.
  • See your healthcare provider if you have signs of pertussis or have been in close contact with someone who has pertussis. 

Where can I get more information?

For more information, contact your healthcare provider or local health center.  Infectious Disease Epidemiology website: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/index.shtml.  The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website - http://www.cdc.gov – is another excellent source of health information.