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Menahga School has pox outbreak

Menahga School is in the midst of a varicella, or chicken pox, outbreak, which so far has affected only non-vaccinated students. Board members left the decision with parents as to whether or not to expose their children to the virus by leaving them in school, in opposition to a recommendation by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The district received reports of eight students with chicken pox in the last two months (five students is considered an outbreak). Letters were sent to parents notifying them that students had been exposed to chicken pox and offering the vaccine.

Wadena County Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health were contacted for a recommendation on the best steps to take in this situation.

MDH recommended that students who are not vaccinated and do not have documentation stating they have already had chicken pox be excluded from school for 21 days after the last reported case of chicken pox.

It is very contagious, said Cindy Pederson, Wadena County Public Health nurse. The biggest worry is that high school students could contract the disease and it is more severe for them than younger children, she added.

MDH recommends two doses of the chicken pox vaccine. It is possible to contract chicken pox after receiving the vaccine but symptoms are often much milder.

School board members were opposed to the recommendation, citing the cost to the district as well as parent choice.

Menahga School has 91 students who have not been vaccinated, which is about 10 percent of the student body. Public health officials said this was a higher percentage than other districts in the state. The majority of these students have a form on file with the school that states a conscientious exemption.

“No student is required to have an immunization that is contrary to the conscientiously held beliefs of his/her parent or guardian,” the form states. “However, not following vaccine recommendations may endanger the health or life of the student or others they come in contact with. In a disease outbreak schools may exclude children who are not vaccinated in order to protect them and others.”

To receive an exemption to vaccination, a parent or legal guardian must complete and sign a form.

Board chairman Ernest Huhta said the district would see a significant state aid reduction if 91 students were gone for 21 days.

Board member Al Peterson said he felt uncomfortable telling parents who had a conscientious exemption on file that their student couldn’t attend school for 21 days because of their belief.

Board member Durwin Tomperi agreed that it is a parenting issue.

“It’s a risk they take letting their kids be in school,” he said.

Parents of the non-vaccinated students have been notified of the situation and have the option to keep their kids in school or have them stay home.

Ann Erickson, Park Rapids Enterprise

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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