Ashland whooping cough outbreak brings forth immunization rates

Ashland, Ore. — Some Ashland students exposed to pertussis – also known as whooping cough – are being asked to stay home from school for 21 days.

As of Thursday, Dr. Jim Shames with Jackson County Public health says there are two confirmed cases and one presumptive case of whooping cough in different Ashland schools.

“I mean I trust the school to let us know if it was a major outbreak,” Michael Balocca said.

Michael Balocca received an email about the outbreak of whooping cough at Ashland schools Tuesday night.

“I thought it was good that they let folks know,” Balocca said.

He has a son at one of the schools, but he says he’s not too concerned especially since his son is vaccinated for the disease.

“I think vaccinations are generally a good idea. I grew up when people still got polio and it was a horrible, crippling disease and they came out with a polio vaccine and it eliminated that,” Balocca said.

Pertussis – otherwise known as whooping cough – is prevented by the D-Tap vaccine.

At most Ashland schools, between 75 and 85 percent of students are immunized against the disease.

However, Willow Wind was at 62 percent, and John Muir at 51 percent.

That’s compared to 93 percent in Jackson County as a whole.

“The consequences of low immunization rates is that the population at whole is at greater risk of disease being transmitted from person to person,” Balocca said.

Dr. Jim Shames with Jackson County Public Health says he doesn’t believe those currently infected were vaccinated for the disease.

He says the vaccine is only partially effective meaning a lot of people have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

“Infants who are too young to be immunized need to be protected by herd immunity or immunity throughout the community so the disease doesn’t spread from a school-aged child to grandma to newborn,” Dr. Jim Shames said.

Jackson County is requiring all exposed children who have not been vaccinated to stay home from school for at least three weeks.

Dr. Jim Shames says that’s long enough that anyone infected won’t pass the disease to other students.

“I think that’s tough for those folks who are being asked to keep their kids out of school. On the other hand, I think that’s the choice that you make when you don’t vaccinate and then you face the consequences if there’s an outbreak. It’s for everyone’s benefit,” Balocca said.

If children get immunized, Dr. Shames says they can go right back to school.

He says while it may not protect them from the current disease outbreak, it would prevent the outbreak from continuing on.

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