QUESTIONS SURROUNDING MEASLES
The outbreak of measles cases nationwide has raised concern about the risk of a measles outbreak in the Ithaca area. The ICSD school nurses, head nurse, and school physician, along with the Tompkins County Health Department, have been aware of the declining immunization rates in our District. The lower immunization rate in a community, particularly where people travel widely, increases the risk of a vaccine preventable disease outbreak starting in a school.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air by coughing and sneezing. The virus can survive in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours. The illness starts with a runny nose, red eyes, sore throat, cough and fever. The first symptoms of measles are the same as for many other upper respiratory infections. The disease is easily spread before it is recognized. The upper respiratory symptoms are followed by a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. Complications include pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhea and encephalitis. Very young children, adults and immune-compromised persons are at more risk for severe complications. Measles is so contagious that 90% of people who lack immunity will contract the disease when exposed to an infected person (CDC).
Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine has been highly successful in eliminating the disease (CDC). It is a safe and effective vaccine. New York State Public Health Law 2164 requires all students who attend public school be age-appropriately immunized.
New York State public health law allows a medical exemption when a valid medical contraindication to a vaccination exists. Any medical exemption must be signed by a physician licensed to practice medicine in the State of New York. New York State public health law allows religious exemptions. Families requesting a religious exemption must provide a notarized statement explaining their sincere and genuine beliefs prohibiting them from meeting the immunization requirements. New York State public health law does not allow philosophical exemptions. New York State allows for documentation of immunity that includes either an antibody titer or practitioner documentation of the disease.
ICSD school nurses inform parents/guardians of children with exemptions that their children may be excluded from school if there is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.
ICSD provides ongoing surveillance for illness in the schools. School nurses are monitoring students for communicable diseases. Students who are unimmunized may be excluded from school if there is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable communicable disease, such as measles or pertussis (whooping cough). The head nurse and school physician work with the Tompkins County Health Department to implement appropriate communicable disease management.