A West Virginia University expert says the state is a leader when it comes to controlling infectious diseases due in part to the relatively stringent state regulations for childhood immunization.

In the wake of a measles outbreak that began in Southern California in mid-December and has spread across the United States, the West Virginia Senate last week unanimously approved an updated immunization bill that does not allow exemptions for religious or philosophical beliefs. The bill originally contained language that would allow for such exemptions.

The updated Senate Bill 286 only allows exemption for medical reasons that have been approved by a doctor. The bill has been sent to the House of Delegates for consideration.

“West Virginia is often identified as a state that faces health issues,” Dr. Gregory Hand, dean of WVU’s School of Public Health, said. “But in terms of controlling infection diseases, West Virginia is one of the top-ranked states.”

West Virginia and Mississippi are the only two states that require students to be fully vaccinated before entering kindergarten without exception for personal beliefs. Both states have gone decades without an outbreak. California legislators introduced a bill Friday that would make that state the third state to adopt the nation’s strictest immunization laws.

Hand recently testified at a West Virginia Senate Health and Human Resources Committee hearing on the importance of maintaining vaccination laws that follow guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the hearing he explained that states that allow exemptions for personal beliefs open their citizens up to a lot of risk.

“Parents who take advantage of exemptions might not realize the severity of the diseases,” he said. “Because of the effectiveness of childhood immunizations many parents have never witnessed diseases like measles, mumps and rubella and may not even realize that these diseases still exist, are a real threat and are severe.”

The recent measles outbreak that began in Southern California has grown to 141 cases in 17 states, including Pennsylvania.

“A populated public area combined with a highly contagious disease and an under-immunized population is the perfect recipe for an outbreak,” Hand said. “That’s why it’s so important to realize that these aren’t only personal decisions. They are community decisions. Our focus is on preventing the spread of disease.”

According to the CDC, the measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

Hand encourages anyone with questions about vaccinations to consult the CDC web site, the National Library of Medicine or talk to their doctor to get reliable, scientific facts.

Hand is available to offer commentary to the media. He can be reached through the WVU Health Science Center Communications Office at 304.293.7087.



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