Immunization rates relatively high among schools in area

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By Correne Martin

Most schools in the area have vaccination rates above 90 percent, with River Ridge touting the highest percentage and Seneca the lowest.

According to Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) rates from 2013, River Ridge had 98.02 percent of its 505 students vaccinated. Of the 1,117 enrolled in Prairie du Chien public schools, 96.70 percent had up-to-date immunizations. Wauzeka-Steuben had 95.0 percent of its 280 students vaccinated, St. Mary’s School in Bloomington had 93.06 percent (72 students), Prairie Catholic Schools had 92.3 percent (147 students) and North Crawford had 92.18 percent (409 students). Prairie Christian Academy was not listed in the report.

In most cases, the reason for students not being immunized was a personal waiver signed by the parents. Some vaccinations were in progress, meaning they couldn’t be counted toward the school’s rate, and a slim margin of those not vaccinated was because parents requested a religious waiver.

Wade Marlow, principal at Prairie Catholic Schools was somewhat surprised at his school’s numbers. “I’m sure ours are higher than that now. A big part of that is our county nurses being willing to get out into the schools so parents don’t have to take their kids to the clinic,” he said. “A lot of times, it’s one family of, say, three adult siblings who have nine kids in school altogether. And they might not believe in vaccinations.”

Seneca Superintendent David Boland agreed. “I’m sure the rates are higher than that,” he said, explaining that, unlike most of the other schools in the area, Seneca doesn’t have a nurse who comes to the school on a regular, oftentimes weekly, basis. He said there is a nurse who visits when her schedule allows, and, each time she stops, she identifies the non-vaccinated students and works with the school to bring their immunizations up-to-date or to record waivers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, from Jan. 1 through Feb. 20, 154 people from 17 states and Washington D.C. had contracted measles. Wisconsin had between five and nine cases (none in Crawford County), as did Iowa. Illinois reported between 10 and 19, while Minnesota only claimed between one and four.

Crossing Rivers Health in Prairie du Chien has seen no cases of the measles as a result of this recent outbreak. But Infection Control Practitioner Brian Simmons recommends that residents should get vaccinated.

“It not only protects them but it also protects those who chose not to immunize, which strengthens the herd immunity (or community immunity),” Simmons said.

According to health officials, vaccinations require herd immunity, where at least 90 to 95 percent of the population is vaccinated. Highly contagious diseases such as measles are making a comeback because those pockets where the vaccination rates are lower put the public at risk.

The U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 cases from 27 states reported to the CDC—the greatest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000. Measles is the number one disease the world is trying to eradicate after polio. “We’ve almost eliminated polio. Africa has gone six months without it,” Crawford County Public Health Director Gloria Wall said. “But measles is so serious because it’s highly contagious and because of the complications you can get if you contract it.”

Complications include ear infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) that can result in deafness or mental retardation, and even death (in one to two per 1,000 cases).

“Measles can live in the air for up to two hours after a person with it passes through. It’s typically due to droplets from them coughing or sneezing,” Wall stated. “Nineteen percent of measles cases are hospitalized. People who have had it will tell you they were very sick.”

The measles virus can infect any person of any age who has not previously had the disease or measles vaccine, according to the Wisconsin DHS. It takes from eight to 12 days for the cold-like symptoms to appear and 14 days for the rash. The disease begins with cold-like signs including a cough, runny nose, high temperature and red watery eyes. By the second day after onset, a red blotchy rash appears at the hairline and spreads down the body to the arms and legs. The rash disappears in the same order of appearance in about five to six days. Measles can spread from one day before the onset of cold-like symptoms through the fourth day of the rash. The only sure way to determine measles indeed exists is through a blood test.

Though most of the country’s measles cases are concentrated in California, due to an outbreak linked to an amusement park, Wall still highly recommends such immunizations here in Crawford County.

“We’re not seeing the disease, so we don’t worry about it,” she said, “but it’s so necessary.” She added that, the lower the immunization rates among large groups of schoolchildren, the higher the risk for an outbreak.

“If a measles case (or any communicable disease) came into a Crawford County school, all of the students not immunized would have to stay out of the school until all of the cases were gone,” she noted.

The Crawford County Health Department’s mission is to have all children immunized by the time they’re school-age. According to the DHS’s 2013 vaccination rates, 78.34 percent of 24-month-olds in Crawford County had up-to-date measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunizations. Deanna Wallin-Sander, Crawford County nurse, said a baby receives his first MMR shot between 12 and 18 months of age, while the second shot is administered prior to him becoming school-age. One dose of MMR vaccine is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus, and two doses are about 97 percent effective.

The controversy that has emerged from this resurgence of measles is “who should enforce vaccination compliance, the parents or the schools,” according to Wall. “It is the parents’ right, by law,” she said. “But it’s our job to make sure parents are aware of the benefits of immunization.” Wall commented on some parents’ fears that the vaccine could lead to other illnesses, such as autism. She said that concern was sparked by a study published in a British medical journal over 15 years ago, but it was later retracted and thoroughly discredited. Other studies have found no link. Wall also pointed out another reason for not immunizing: some parents believe children should build immunity on their own. She added, while parents have the right to waive immunizations for their children, the schools have the responsibility of being compliant with state law and reporting their rates.

“I would like to see our rate a little closer to 100 percent,” Marlow said. “Our goal is to keep all our students safe.”

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