Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, has been diagnosed in one student at Lincolnville Central School and parents are being advised to pay attention to symptoms of illness their children may exhibit.

The bacteria that causes whooping cough has inched back into the U.S., Maine, and the Midcoast over the past decade. Health officials hoped to eradicate it with mass vaccination; instead, it reemerged, even in countries such as Australia, Canada and Holland, where there are a high number of children receiving the vaccination.

The recognition of whooping cough dates back centuries, with an epidemic hitting Paris in 1578. Known as the “dog bark” or “chin cough” it was a leading cause of childhood death, until 1931, when a vaccine was developed. Little whooping cough was reported into the 1980s, but then it began to creep back into the population. Whooping cough presents a sound that some great-grandmothers remember well, but would just as soon forget, with frantic attempts of a small child gasping for air, with little relief, as whooping cough runs its course.

Listen to this audio clip (link appears on the left side of the page) from the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine for how a baby can be affected by whooping cough.

According to a notice sent home from the school on Friday afternoon, Jan. 13, the student was diagnosed last week and has since completed a five-day course of antibiotics. The student, according to the school, was infectious from the last part of December into the first week of January until beginning antibiotic treatment.

“When one case of whooping cough is confirmed in a school, there are no exclusions and no prophylaxis recommendations, other than to household and close friends, but the Maine Center for Disease Control does recommend surveillance for severe cough illness (cough to the point of paroxysms, post-tussive vomiting, incontinence or apnea) and surveillance for persistent cough that lasts longer than two weeks,” the school advised.

Pertussis is spread through coughing or sneezing, and usually begins as a cold and then develops into a bad cough after one or two weeks. Most students, the school said, have been immunized appropriately but it is still possible that children who have been vaccinated can be infected.

The Maine CDC is monitoring the community and asks that if a child becomes symptomatic that parents consult with a health care provider. If pertussis is suspected, the CDC is asking to be informed by calling 1-800-821-5821.

The CDC recommends that all children, parents and staff members who are symptomatic with a sore throat, runny nose and/or cough should go to the doctor to be tested for pertussis via a swab of the back of the nose.

Those who are symptomatic should also be placed on appropriate antibiotics, according to the CDC, and the sick should stay home from work, daycare and school, and refrain from social activity until they have completed five days of antibiotic treatment. Family members and other close contacts of those with pertussis may need antibiotics, as well.

All children, parents and staff members who are not up to date on vaccinations should receive the appropriate dose of pertussis-containing vaccine.

In 2006, several whooping cough cases were reported in Appleton, Warren and Waldoboro.

Then, the state’s chief medical adviser and epidemiologist at the Maine Bureau of Health, Kathleen F. Gensheimer, said, “Pertussis is not something to be taken lightly. It is a very serious bacteria and we’ve certainly had deaths from it.”

The CDC circulated a public advisory, saying: “Symptoms include apnea, paroxysmal spasms of severe coughing, whooping, and post-tussive vomiting. Complications include hypoxia, apnea, pneumonia, seizures and encephalopathy.”

The contagious whooping cough manifests with rapid coughing followed by attempts to regain breath, face turning blue from lack of oxygen and at times a high-pitched whoop.

The disease spreads with coughing and sneezing, while thick mucous builds up in the lungs and clogs air passages, triggering the violent coughing spells. Infants whose air passages are small are most at risk, and the toxins in the B. pertussis bacterium can cause high fever, convulsions, brain damage, and death.

Other complications include pneumonia, a secondary infection resulting from a battered and vulnerable immune system.

While most U.S. babies are vaccinated against the bacteria with the series of DPT (Diptheria/ Pertussis/Tetanus) shots, researchers suspect the disease is shifting to adolescents and adults because of waning protective immunity. As that happens, more people become susceptible as the bacteria grabs a foothold in a community, and then the vulnerable young, especially those less than six months old, get sick.