An outbreak of measles, chickenpox or other such diseases is unlikely but not impossible in Jackson County, local health officials said.
The low number of unvaccinated children in the area keeps those chances down; however, some people argue that immunizations aren’t safe, effective or needed.
Sherry Reinhart, school nurse coordinator for Seymour Community School Corp., said there are usually between 10 and 15 students each year, out of an enrollment of 4,500, who have filed an exemption from immunizations.
Those exemptions are only for religious or medical reasons, Reinhart said.
Schools require families to provide proof of immunization for their children or have an exemption on file to attend.
Exemption forms are provided to schools by the state, which requires a new form be completed each year for a student seeking an exemption.
In response to recent outbreaks of the measles in other states, Reinhart said the school has received numerous inquiries about the disease and has sent information home to parents.
Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that begins with symptoms that can include a fever greater than 101 degrees, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis or red, irritated eyes lasting two to four days prior to the onset of a splotchy, red rash that can cover the entire body.
The disease can be serious and cause health complications, such as encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, especially in young children.
Sally Spurgeon of Seymour said she made sure her children were vaccinated when they were young to prevent them from getting the diseases she and her sisters experienced growing up.
“I and my sisters had the measles, chickenpox and mumps,” Spurgeon said. “One of the diseases hit during warm weather, and we were quarantined, and it was awful.”
With the measles, Spurgeon said they had to stay in a dark room because of how much their eyes hurt.
Measles is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so contagious that a person who is exposed to it and hasn’t been immunized likely will get it, experts said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 confirmed cases in 27 states.
It’s the highest number of cases since the disease was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, the CDC reported.
So far this year, 154 cases have been reported in 17 states. Most of those cases have been linked to Disneyland in California.
Indiana has reported no cases of the disease so far, but just one case in a school would constitute an outbreak, Reinhart said.
If a case of measles was identified in a local school, the sick child and any unvaccinated children would be quarantined and monitored for a period of at least three weeks. During that time, they would not be allowed to attend school or have contact with the public.
Dr. Kenneth Bobb, health officer with the Jackson County Health Department, said excuses for not getting immunized usually aren’t founded and the benefits outweigh any potential side effects.
He said he thinks the biggest reason parents may choose not to get their children immunized against the measles is because they’ve never seen it.
“I saw measles a lot when I was a young doctor, and it can make you really sick,” he said. “But it’s preventable. I’m not sure parents realize how devastating these communicable diseases can be.”
Although he doesn’t think the unvaccinated population is large in the county, he hopes the ongoing outbreaks in other areas of the country will give parents reason to think about immunizing their child, he said.
“Having anyone without a vaccination puts everyone at risk,” he said. “I hope the current conversation sparks the enthusiasm of parents who haven’t vaccinated their children to reconsider immunizations, not just for the health and welfare of their own children but of others in the community.”
Parent Heather Clark of Seymour said she agrees that immunizations should be mandatory to attend school.
“We don’t have a lot of control over things to protect our children, but that is one we have that control over,” she said. “If I can spare my child any amount of sickness or pain, as a parent, I’m going to do whatever I can to do that.”
Stephanie Burgess, nurse practitioner for Seymour Pediatrics, said there is always some risk here for an outbreak.
“We cannot completely prevent it,” she said. “The goal of immunization is to limit the size and the severity of an outbreak, and with an adequately vaccinated community, we would expect the numbers of individuals affected to be low.”
She said she believes the county’s unvaccinated population is low because of the education taking place at doctor’s offices, schools, the health department and the hospital about the benefits of immunization.
“We try to take time to talk with parents, address their concerns, answer the questions and dispel myths associated with vaccinations,” she said.
Due to this education, more families are choosing to follow a modified vaccination schedule as opposed to refusing all vaccinations, Burgess said.
A modified vaccination schedule allows vaccines to be spaced out to decrease the amount of injections at one time but still provides protection against those illnesses it strives to prevent, she added.
Burgess said by limiting the number of exemptions to those who are too ill or who are undergoing medical treatment and increasing immunity throughout the population, the community can decrease the risk of illness.
Brenda Klosterman, a local preschool teacher, said not getting a child vaccinated for the measles is irresponsible.
“We are supposed to take care of our children in every way. That includes vaccinating them,” she said. “This is the 21st century. Not vaccinating takes medicine back 50 years.”