Chickenpox outbreak at North Carolina school linked to vaccine exemption of students
The affected students are all within the age range of 4 to 11 and attend the Asheville Waldorf School in Asheville, about 120 miles west of Charlotte
A private school in North Carolina is witnessing an alarming outbreak of Chickenpox with at least three dozen students falling ill to the highly-contagious disease. Health officials in the state have deemed the cases the largest outbreak in the region since a vaccine to prevent the viral infection became available in North Carolina over two decades ago, according to reports.
The affected students, who comprise nearly one-quarter of the school's student body, are all within the age range of 4 to 11 and attend the Asheville Waldorf School in Asheville, about 120 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina. The medical director for Buncombe County Health & Human Services, Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, while talking to the New York Times, said that the children began falling ill in mid-September.
Reports state that the school has 152 children in nursery school through sixth grade and has one of the highest rates of religious exemptions for vaccination in the state.
"The size of this outbreak and the fact that this school continues to have a large number of unvaccinated students makes it very likely there will be a continued spread of Chickenpox within the school. This also poses a risk of spreading to the surrounding community," Dr. Mullendore said.
The state requires all students to receive the Chickenpox vaccination, however, exceptions can be made in certain cases, which include religious or medical reasons.
State data shows that nearly two-thirds of the 28 kindergartners at the private school reportedly received religious exemptions from the required vaccination during the school year 2017-2018.
Dr. Mullendore told The Times that although several schools in the county have witnessed Chickenpox outbreaks in recent years, they have been smaller in number and have been restricted to no more than five to 11 children, until now.
"There is a significant amount of misinformation about vaccines on the internet and social media, which parents may find confusing and concerning," Dr. Mullendore said. "We encourage parents to talk with their child’s health care provider and review medically accurate, scientifically sound information about the serious risks of vaccine-preventable diseases compared to the very rare risks of vaccination."
"It is important to understand that even healthy children and adults may develop serious complications from varicella (another name for Chickenpox)," the doctor added.