Cobb student with measles may have spread to others unvaccinated

An unvaccinated Cobb County middle schooler contracted measles and exposed others who were unimmunized to the highly contagious virus, the Georgia Public Health Department said Monday. 

School district officials confirmed that the student attended Mabry Middle School through Nov. 1. A total of 17 unvaccinated people — mostly students and at least one adult — are being kept away from school and are at home, according to two people familiar with the situation. Those at home will not be allowed to return until a 21-day quarantine period is over, according to the state health agency. 

» MORE: What is measles and how can you prevent it?

» MORE: Four questions about back-to-school vaccinations in Georgia

The quarantine covers the time when symptoms of the disease would appear and an infected person would be contagious. That would be through Nov. 22. But with schools closed the following week for Thanksgiving break, those exposed to the virus wouldn’t return until Dec. 2 at the earliest. 

“The unaffected teachers and students remain focused on teaching and learning while affected students and families are supported by Public Health,” the school district said in an emailed statement.  

The Mabry student marks the eighth measles case this year, the most the state has seen in the past decade. All eight people were unvaccinated. 

The Department of Public Health is asking anyone with symptoms of measles to call a health care provider first before going into a doctor’s office or hospital.  

The measles virus usually starts with a fever and is accompanied by a cough, a runny nose and red eyes, according to state officials. Two to three days after the first symptoms appear, a rash of red spots breaks out, usually on the face along the hairline. It can move to the rest of the body within 24 hours. 

The germ can be spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can linger in the air up to two hours.  

In a letter sent home to parents, Janet Pak Memark, with the Cobb-Douglas Public Health Department, said it is very unlikely that students will get measles if they have been vaccinated with the measles mumps and rubella vaccine. The vaccine is typically administered first between 12 to 15 months of age and again between 4 and 6 years of age. 

Cobb County School Board Chairman David Chastain said he has seen some people share news of the diagnosis on social media, but has not had worried parents or teachers reach out to him.  

“I understand people’s concerns, but I think the fact that people are aware, they can take their own precautions,” he said, adding he doesn’t know anything else about the diagnosis.  

He also encouraged Cobb residents to follow any health department guidelines that are issued amid the diagnosis.  

“I think people need to be rational about this,” he added.  

Parents picking up their children at the school, located on Jims Road in East Cobb, didn’t seem overly concerned, with several parents pointing out their children are vaccinated and protected against measles.  

But Michael Bryan, a Mabry parent, said he was “a little aggravated” to learn of the student’s diagnosis. “That was a little upsetting,” he said.  

Bryan said he believed children should be vaccinated before enrolling in public schools. “Unless they have a condition that makes vaccines extra dangerous for them, then absolutely,” he said. “It still makes sense to vaccinate.”  

An estimated 93.6% of young children in Georgia received the recommended vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella, slightly lower than the national average of 94.7%, according to research published in an October issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Also in Georgia, 2.5 percent of kindergartners had an exemption from at least one vaccine, which is the same overall percentage for the U.S. 

By state law, vaccinations are required for school attendance unless a parent or guardian provides a religious or temporary medical exemption form. For religious exemptions, the child must have a notarized affidavit stating that vaccinations are against the family’s religious beliefs. 

A temporary medical exemption — from a physician, advanced practice registered nurse or physician assistant — can be granted for up to one year for specific vaccines.  

In the event of a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak, students with exemptions will not be able to attend school until the outbreak is contained.  

The CDC has recorded 1,250 cases of measles across 31 states in the U.S. since January 1, the highest since 1992.  

The increase is primarily the result of a few large outbreaks, particularly in New York, home to more than 75% of cases this year, according to the CDC. In April, New York City declared a public health emergency and instituted mandatory vaccinations in certain ZIP codes after hundreds were sickened. 

The CDC believes bad information, spread through social media, has played a significant role in parents turning away from vaccinations. It has pointed to the now-debunked theory that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is linked to autism.  

“Resistance to vaccinations and the spread of misinformation about vaccines is a huge concern for pediatricians. Probably our No. 1 issue right now,” said Dr. Hugo Scornik, a Conyers pediatrician. 

Scornik, vice president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said he and other doctors do their best to provide information about the importance of vaccinations to prevent very serious childhood diseases.  

And when parents refuse to vaccinate their children, he said he sometimes has no choice but to ask the family to change pediatric practices to avoid exposes other patients.  

“It’s not the desired outcome,” he said. 

Staff writer Chelsea Prince contributed to this article.