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Reported cases of whooping cough spiked in Maine last month to more than twice what that had been the prior year, according to the state’s public health agency.

Overall, Maine had 55 reported cases of pertussis last month, up from 24 in January 2018, according to the Maine Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s latest disease surveillance report released earlier this week.

Of the 55 cases, 39 were in just three of Maine’s 16 counties. Hancock County had the most with 16, York County had 13 and Waldo County had 10. More than half the cases affected children and teenagers between 11 and 19 years old, according to the Maine CDC.

According to the federal CDC, pertussis is a respiratory disease that often causes “uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe.” Someone with pertussis often takes deep breaths after coughing fits, which can make a “whooping” sound. It can affect people of all ages and can be very serious, even deadly, for babies younger than a year old.

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“Pertussis spreads by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria,” Maine CDC officials wrote in the surveillance report, adding that keeping hands clean helps to prevent the spread of the disease.

However, the CDC noted, “The best way to prevent pertussis among babies, children, teens, and adults is to get vaccinated.”

The CDC last month declared only one outbreak of pertussis at an unidentified K-12 school in York County. Of nearly 450 reported cases of pertussis in Maine in 2018, York County had the most, with 174 reported cases. Twenty outbreaks were identified in Maine last year, with nine occurring in York County and four in Hancock County.

In Hancock County, concern about the spread of pertussis last month prompted school officials with Regional School Unit 24, which serves nine towns, and at Ellsworth Elementary Middle School to send out notifications to parents. One case was confirmed at the Ellsworth school, but information about whether any cases were confirmed at RSU 24 schools was not made public.

According to a report in the Ellsworth American weekly newspaper, 11 cases of whooping cough were reported at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill between early November and mid-January.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....