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Measles case at south Forsyth elementary school a false alarm


* See previous story: Measles case reported at South Forsyth elementary school.

SOUTH FORSYTH — A third-grader at Sharon Elementary School who was initially diagnosed with what appeared to be the first case of measles in Forsyth County in possibly 25 years may not have been the virus after all, officials said.

“It’s not uncommon that [the initial results] pick up something that’s a different kind of virus,” said Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The department was notified of the case and conducted additional testing that came back negative Thursday.

“The test done at the Public Health lab is considered one of the most definitive tests for measles,” Nydam said. “We have every reason to believe this will not be a case of the measles.”

Out of an abundance of caution, she said, specimens have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, for a third set of testing, though it is “highly unlikely” the student has measles.

The last confirmed case of measles in Georgia was in February. An infected infant brought it to Atlanta from outside of the United States, but there were no secondary cases spurring from that child, Nydam said.

Prior to that, there had not been a confirmed case since 2012.

The school system updated parents of the 1,063 Sharon students by email Thursday night, though the CDC results have not been released.

Wednesday’s scare stemmed from a physician who reported the possible case to the Forsyth County Health Department as required by procedure, said Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the school district.

“Maybe it created an inconvenience, but we followed procedure to protect the safety of our students,” Caracciolo said, “and the most important thing is that the child doesn’t have measles.”

There was a “large volume” of checkouts from the school on Wednesday, she said.

Though parents have contacted school district officials in the hopes of finding out which child was at the center of the situation, Caracciolo has cited student and health care confidentiality laws in protecting his or her identity.

The best thing parents can do is to call their pediatrician if they are concerned about their child — vaccinated or not — or if they show any symptoms, which include a full-body rash, fever, hacking cough, red eyes and runny nose, officials said.

“As always, if you see anything abnormal, call your doctor,” said Charity Scott, office manager at the local health department.

According to the school district’s website, all children entering the system are required to have been vaccinated for measles, among other diseases.

Of the 42,747 students in the local school district, 662 have completed waivers for the measles or measles-mumps rubella vaccines. Of those, 66 are for medical reasons, with the rest exempt on religious grounds.

Earlier in the week, Dave Palmer, spokesman for the District 2 health department, said there had not been a measles case in Forsyth “dating back to 1990” and that data can’t be retrieved prior to that.

He added that Forsyth has one of the highest immunizations rates of any county in Georgia, at more than 99 percent.

While measles is probably best known for the full-body rash it causes, the first symptoms are usually a hacking cough, runny nose, pink eye and a high fever,

It is so contagious, Palmer said, that 9 out of 10 people around a person with the virus will also become infected if they are not protected by vaccination.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one dose of the vaccine is about 93 percent effective at preventing the virus when exposed. Two doses are about 97 percent effective.

Only three out of every 100 people who get two doses of the vaccine still will get measles, the website said, though they are more likely to have a milder illness and are less likely to spread the disease.