December 19, 2018
Meghan May, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and infectious disease at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, was recently interviewed by WMTW for a report on the rise of pertussis in Maine.
“Most people that are my age never got the disease when they were children,” she told WMTW. “We had never seen it and didn’t have any idea how terrifying and dangerous it was.”
Nearly 100 cases of pertussis have been reported in Maine so far this year. The Maine CDC is now monitoring the increasing number of cases very closely.
Maine is one of several states with cases of pertussis in children who are fully vaccinated. May and student Haley Etskovitz (COM, ’21) completed a study exploring reasons why that is happening.
When we are vaccinated, our immune system mounts a response targeted specifically to the components in that vaccine. May and Etskovitz found if there are a few bacteria present with a slightly different version of the protein pertactin, they become harder to kill. Over time, these strains with slightly different versions start spreading in the population and progress from being "harder to kill" to being "impossible to kill."