2017-05-04 / Front Page

Students quarantined following chickenpox outbreak

Some Mariposa parents oppose vaccinations
By Stephanie Bertholdo

The Las Virgenes School District told 90 unvaccinated students at the Mariposa School of Global Education to stay out of class for three weeks starting May 1 due to a chickenpox outbreak at the Agoura Hills school. The students who hadn’t been vaccinated were told to stay home for 21 days to avoid catching and spreading the disease.

Las Virgenes Superintendent Dan Stepenosky said three students were diagnosed with chickenpox, the first case occurring in March.

State law requires that all public and private school students be immunized against a host of childhood diseases, including chickenpox, before entering kindergarten and seventh grade.

But children whose parents filed a so-called personal belief exemption prior to Jan. 1, 2016 do not have to be vaccinated. Certain medical waivers continued to be accepted as well.

“There are legitimate medical waivers,” Stepenosky said. "For example, a student with a compromised immune system, which could be for any reason, is often because they are fighting cancer.”

Immunization records are checked are when a student enters kindergarten and seventh grade.

“We strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinations,” Stepenosky said, “but the law only allows us to exclude (unvaccinated) students in kindergarten and seventh grade.”

Students are checked only twice due to the longevity of the vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one dose of the chickenpox vaccine is 85 percent effective at preventing the disease.

Two doses are recommended—the first at 12 to 15 months of age, the second between 4 and 6 years old. Two doses are 90 percent effective, the CDC says. People who have been vaccinated can still get the disease, but it is usually a mild case with fewer blisters.

However, one of the Mariposa children diagnosed with chickenpox had been immunized.

“(It’s) interesting . . . the first of three cases was a student that was fully immunized. . . . He was the vaccinated one,” Stepenosky said.

The superintendent said the school found out about the student’s chickenpox on March 22 when the child’s parent called the school. Two other cases were soon reported—and by Monday, 90 unvaccinated students were told to go home.

Alice Garcia, the Las Virgenes district nurse, spoke with parents about the need to keep their unvaccinated children home from school.

In 2015, Mariposa came under scrutiny because many parents at the school were opposed to the shots. At that time, only 40 percent of students were up-to-date with their immunizations.

When the state law requiring vaccinations came into effect in 2016, compliance increased. Today, almost 80 percent of the school’s 389 students are vaccinated.

Officials say the shots remain the best defense against chickenpox and it spreading.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement that “exposed unvaccinated individuals are requested to restrict their movement and activities, which would include exclusion from school or work, if applicable, in order to protect other vulnerable children, staff and visitors in the school setting.

“Individuals who are unsure of their vaccination status should check with their doctor to determine if they need to receive the vaccine,” the health department said.

Chickenpox is an extremely contagious disease that causes a blister-like rash, itching, fever and fatigue.

The rash appears first on the stomach, back and face, and can spread over the entire body, causing between 250 and 500 itchy blisters. Chickenpox can be serious, especially when it strikes infants, adults and people with weakened immune systems.

For more information on chickenpox, visit http://bit.ly/2p5sbyS.

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