The recent chickenpox outbreak in Marysville High School has re-opened the “anti-vaccination” box. Let’s set a few things straight for the record.
First, chickenpox is not a “harmless rash.” Although the clinical course in healthy children is generally mild, adults may have more severe symptoms and higher incidence of complications (bacterial skin infections, pneumonia, neurological signs, hospitalizations, and even rarely death). Children with cancer or HIV may develop a severe progressive form of the disease. One of the sickest children I ever took care of in this community had chickenpox.
Second, it is our job as your local health department to stay on top of the science, research, best practice, and guidelines that are developed by the world’s most expert authorities. We do not make decisions about controlling communicable diseases in a “vacuum,” nor do we take the responsibility lightly. Our goal is for the community to be as healthy and productive as possible, and we rely on many sources of expertise to guide us in that endeavor. These guidelines are reviewed and revised constantly, based on new emerging information and experiences.
Finally, there is a rich history and legally upheld public health code that allows for decisions related to controlling communicable diseases. Because of vaccines, improved sanitation, and (in some cases) antibiotics, people have forgotten the impact and terror that a spreading infection caused in the community. For example, in the days of cholera epidemics, towns throughout the Midwest were literally “emptied out” as people fled to non-infected areas and/or died of the disease. Public Health authority is an extremely valuable and important tool for a community that chooses to work, live, and play in close proximity. It helps you much more than it restricts your freedoms.
In summary, the St. Clair County Health Department is doing the best job we can, based on the best evidence available, to create a healthy environment for everyone. We believe it’s important that everyone has the best opportunity to live the most productive life possible, regardless of their underlying health condition, income, occupation, race/ethnicity, or other demographics.
—Dr. Annette Mercatante, MD, MPH
Medical Health Officer
St. Clair County Health Department