The annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner for seniors and students has been canceled at the Middle School of the Kennebunks because of the potential for exposure to pertussis. FILE PHOTO

KENNEBUNK — The risk of exposure to whooping cough has led to the scrubbing of the annual community Thanksgiving dinner for seniors and students at the Middle School of the Kennebunks.

The popular event that has drawn up to 400 people in past years was scheduled to be held Wednesday at the school, but a decision was made by RSU 21 to cancel the meal because of newly identified student cases of whooping cough.

“As many of you are aware, we began the school year with several cases of pertussis, also known as ‘Whooping Cough’ at MSK.” Dr. Phillip J. Potenziano, RSU 21 assistant superintendent of schools wrote in an open letter to the community. “Pertussis is most concerning when it occurs in newborns, the elderly, or those who have compromised immune systems. While our cases of pertussis at MSK have leveled off, we are continuing to have newly identified student cases, and as a result, we have decided to postpone the annual community Thanksgiving dinner.”

Potenziano said that this decision was made after consulting with MSK school nurse Michelle Taggert, and school physician Dr. Donald Burgess, as well as the Maine Centers for Disease Control after two new cases were identified among MSK students in the last week.

“We simply do not want to risk exposing even one member of our community who might have a compromised immune system and perhaps more importantly, we do not wish to exclude people from this wonderful community event,” Potenziano wrote. “To that end, we are planning a Welcome Spring Luncheon to be held on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Thank you for understanding as we strive to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

The community Thanksgiving dinner is held every November at the Middle School of the Kennebunks on Thompson Road and draws parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who eat a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings while mingling with eighth-grade students.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, pertussis is a respiratory illness commonly known as whooping cough that is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria.

Pertussis can be spread from person to person through the air and an individual can catch pertussis by standing less than 3 feet away from an infected person who is coughing or sneezing. Maine CDC says that a person has to breathe in droplets from an infected person to get sick.

Symptoms begin similar to the common cold and can develop into a severe cough. Most children are vaccinated against pertussis, but even so, it is possible for vaccinated people to become ill, as pertussis is highly contagious and can pose a serious threat to infants and older adults.

There were 332 pertussis cases reported statewide through Oct. 31, compared to 349 reported cases through the same date in 2017.

Maine CDC says there were 37 reported cases of pertussis in September and York County had a total of 58 percent of the pertussis cases in Maine reported in October. Three outbreaks were reported in October, one in Cumberland County and two in York County and there was an outbreak in Sanford schools in April.

Overall, Maine had the third highest pertussis rate in the country at 18.3 per 100,000 individuals in 2016, which is the last year available for national comparison by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a result of that finding, in 2017, Maine required pertussis booster shots for all incoming seventh-graders, which could eventually lead to a decrease in the number of cases over time.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 780-9013 or by email at [email protected] 



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