OGDEN -- Sixty-five unimmunized students from Mount Ogden Junior High School were sent home for at least five days Monday morning after the school was notified that one of its students had been diagnosed with whooping cough.
The student contracted whooping cough Oct. 9 and was diagnosed Oct. 18. The doctor's office contacted the Ogden School District nurse on Oct. 19, and the district notified Mount Ogden Principal Clyde Moore on Monday morning.
Moore and the school staff then checked which students had either submitted immunization waivers or hadn't completed the state-required immunizations.
Those students were sent home with a letter to parents detailing why they were sent home and with specific instructions for what to do before the students can return to school.
The unimmunized students have a few options.
They must take the required pertussis/whooping cough antibiotic for five days and then return, or if they choose not to take the antibiotic, they must wait at least 21 days or until the last case of whooping cough is gone from the school, said Glen Kinney, Weber/Morgan Health Department epidemiologist.
That could be a very long time, considering that whooping cough is often referred to as the 100-day cough.
"Pertussis can be extremely dangerous to children under the age of 1," Kinney said.
That makes it especially dangerous for junior high school-age children to be infected, he said, because most junior high children have contact with younger children -- either in the home, as baby sitters or through some other contact.
"We have to be very careful with a situation like this," Kinney said.
The number of students being sent home was also very high because the pertussis vaccine is required for students before entering seventh grade. If those students aren't vaccinated and a vaccine waiver is not signed, the students should not be in school.
Moore said the school keeps students' vaccination records, but a grace period is given to the students, once school starts, to get the required vaccines.
That grace period, coincidentally, ended Monday.
Some students had already gotten the required vaccines and their parents had forgotten to turn in the record.
Moore had about six students in that predicament Monday, and those students are back in class.
Another issue for students who were sent home is that the quarter ends Friday, which can be a very difficult time for students to miss.
Moore spoke with teachers about the problem Monday, and teachers have agreed to work with all affected students.
Sheila Favero, whose son was one of those sent home Monday, expressed concern with how the situation was handled. She chose not to have her son vaccinated until last spring, when he needed vaccinations before attending a Boy Scout camp.
He received one booster shot that contained the pertussis vaccine, but his paperwork hadn't been turned in because she has always signed the waiver in the past.
She said she usually chooses not to have her children vaccinated because of information she has read about possible side effects.
The letter she received from the school had no letterhead and no signature and was dated Oct. 19.
Moore told Favero the letter was from the district nurse, but Favero said she wishes the information had been delivered Wednesday before the long Utah Education Association weekend.
"I realize it's my choice about the immunizations, and I don't want my son walking around infecting anyone," she said.
Although her son could technically go back to school, she has kept him home and had him tested for whooping cough, because he has developed cold and flu symptoms the last few days
"He has only had one dose of the booster," she said.
Michelle Singleton, who oversees vaccines for Weber/Morgan Health Department, said the department tries to make it easy to get required vaccines.
She urges students to visit their primary care provider, but said those who are uninsured or underinsured can visit Weber/Morgan Health Department for the vaccines.
In 2010, 95.6 percent of students entering seventh grade were adequately vaccinated, with 2.6 percent opting out of the vaccines altogether. The other 1.8 percent are those the district works with to get vaccinated.
Eighty-one percent in Morgan district schools were adequately vaccinated, and 96.2 percent in Weber district schools were adequately vaccinated, say officials in each district.
Kinney said the pertussis booster is 85 to 95 percent effective for children and adults who are not constantly around affected patients.
Kinney said pertussis is extremely contagious.
"If unvaccinated, if pertussis is in circulation, you're likely to get it."