North Carolina School With High Vaccination Exemption Rate Sees Chickenpox Outbreak

Chickenpox
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A North Carolina grade school with one of the state’s highest vaccination religious exemption rates has been hit by an outbreak of chickenpox, authorities said.

As of Friday, the 36th case of varicella virus, most commonly known as chickenpox, was reported at Asheville Waldorf School, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

Of the school’s 152 enrolled children, 110 have not received the vaccine to protect against the virus, which manifests in a blister-like rash and can cause itching, tiredness and fever. 

The rash typically appears first on the afflicted person’s stomach, back and face, and can spread over their entire body, causing between 250 and 500 itchy blisters, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. 

Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults and people with weakened immune systems. 

“People don’t think it’s a serious disease, and for the majority of people it’s not. But it’s not that way for everybody,” Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, an official with the Buncombe County Department of Health & Human Services, told the Citizen Times. 

She noted that between two and three children out of every 1,000 infected with the virus have to be hospitalized

“To me, that’s not a mild disease, and if you’re the parent of one of those children, you probably don’t think so either,” Mullendore told the newspaper. 

Since it was made made available in the U.S. in 1995, the chickenpox vaccine has prevented more than 3.5 million cases of varicella, 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths a year, according to the CDC.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services tracks the rate of kindergarteners whose parents have claimed a religious exemption that allow them to not vaccinate their children. 

During the 2017-2018 school year, Asheville Waldorf had the third highest rate of religious exemptions for vaccinations in the state, data obtained by the Citizen Times said. Nineteen of the 28 kindergartners who enrolled that year had an exemption to at least one vaccination required by the state to enroll in school.

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