Student Well-Being

Mumps Outbreak May Mean Long Absences for Unvaccinated Ohio Students

By Evie Blad — April 16, 2014 2 min read
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Officials in Ohio have warned parents that unvaccinated children may have to miss school for 25 days or longer if a mumps outbreak makes its way into the region’s schools, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

In a letter to schools, the health commissioners for the city of Columbus and Franklin County also urged leaders to encourage parents to vaccinate their children. Central Ohio now has such a large mumps outbreak that the number of cases in the region—224 in eight counties—is more than half of the total reported nationwide last year, the paper reported.

The commissioners want to protect unvaccinated children, but their advice comes with a broader public-health concern in mind: Unvaccinated children increase the chances that one mumps case at a school turns into more, Long said. "Complicating matters in this, and any, mumps outbreak is the fact that the virus has a long shelf life. A person can spread mumps for more than three weeks."

So far, school-related mumps cases have been isolated, not affecting more than one student or employee at a school. If they start appearing in clumps of two or more, the officials will take greater public health precautions.

Vaccines have been in the news lately as states work to clamp down on policies that allow parents to opt their children out of requirements to get vaccinated before enrolling in public schools. The Colorado house passed such a bill, now under consideration in the state’s senate, after a task force recommended required counseling and education before allowing families to opt out for religious or personal reasons.

Decisions to opt out have been tied to a variety of factors, and some have attributed the rise to unproven theories that vaccines contribute to autism. Public health officials have widely criticized those notions. Perhaps seeing the backlash, prominent vaccine critic Jenny McCarthy has even tried to walk back some of her stronger language. (That’s the second Jenny McCarthy mention on Rules for Engagement this week, a new record!)

Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children claim it is a personal choice. Critics of the anti-vaccination movement say it interferes with a concept called “herd immunity,” which is described on this Department of Health and Human Services website:

When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as 'community immunity.'"

The concept seems to be at play in the Ohio officials’ warnings. I wonder if such concerns, and the logistics involved with having a child sit out of school for a month, will cause more parents to change their mind about vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently tracking two outbreaks of mumps—at Ohio State University and at Fordham University in New York.

Photo: Nurses Fatima Guillen, left, and Fran Wendt, right, give Kimberly Magdeleno, 4, a whooping cough booster shot as she is held by her mother, Claudia Solorio, at a health clinic in Tacoma, Wash. -Ted S. Warren/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.