At least 36 students at a North Carolina school with a heavy anti-vaccine population have been sickened following an outbreak of the chickenpox virus, health officials said.
The outbreak, formally known as varicella, hit Asheville Waldorf School in Ashville, according to a news release from Buncombe County Health & Human Services.
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Health officials warned that the best way to prevent becoming infected with the virus is to be “fully immunized.”
“We want to be clear: vaccination is the best protection from chickenpox,” Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county medical director, said. “Two doses of varicella vaccine can offer significant protection against childhood chickenpox and shingles as an adult.”
“When we see high numbers of unimmunized children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community- into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams.”
The private school, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported, “has one of the highest vaccination religious exemption rates in North Carolina.”
Asheville Waldorf, in the 2017-2018 school year, “had a higher rate of religious exemptions for vaccinations than all but two other schools in the state.”
Mullendore told the news outlet that many don’t think chickenpox is “a serious disease, and for the majority of people it’s not. But it’s not that way for everybody.” The doctor said that three out of every 1,000 children who are infected with the virus require hospital care.
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The virus can cause a “blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It used to be “very common” before the release of the vaccination in 1995, with about 100 to 150 deaths per year.
“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 said.
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Of the school’s 152 students, 110 have not received the chickenpox vaccine, the news outlet reported.
According to the CDC, two doses of the varicella vaccine will effectively prevent the virus. Even though some people who are vaccinated “may still get the disease,” it is typically “milder with fewer blisters and little or no fever.”