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Health Officials: Risk of Disease from Immigrant Children Low

by Published on
Eugenio del Bosque

While fears of immigrant children carrying disease persist, public health experts on the front lines offer reasons for calm.

The Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that “the likelihood of [these kids] spreading disease is low.” The story cited health officials who have documented just three cases of flu, three cases of tuberculosis, and 23 cases of chickenpox among the 57,000 children detained in Texas.

This report comes while Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins—acting on his idea that “in Texas, we don’t turn our back on children”—prepares his county to receive 2,000 unaccompanied migrant kids.

The physicians and state health officials interviewed by the Morning News emphasized the same message that the Observer reported last week: The Central American kids streaming across the border pose very little threat to the health of Texans. They do need medical care—mostly for the fatigue, dehydration and twisted ankles that have resulted from their journey.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly emphasized, each child receives a screening for infectious disease.

Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Morning News that health risks in the detention facilities spring mostly from “the lack of hand-washing facilities.” The occasional cases of lice and scabies, which have excited the ire of a Border Patrol union, do not seem to impress the medical professionals much.

Astute readers will have noted that chickenpox (also known as varicella) is in fact a vaccine-preventable disease. In 1995, the U.S. became the first country to recommend universal vaccination against chickenpox, which is typically a mild disease. (I had it. You probably had it. Serious complications are rare enough that many American physicians questioned whether vaccinating against varicella was worth the trouble.)

Since the mid-’90s, only a handful of nations have adopted universal varicella vaccination. In developing countries that face more pressing health issues, it wouldn’t be cost-effective. Agencies like the World Health Organization and UNICEF don’t include rates of varicella vaccination in their worldwide reports, because it’s not a global health priority.

In tropical regions such as Central America, chickenpox tends to occur more in teenagers and adults, rather than exclusively in young kids. That’s another factor in these few cases at the border: Kids from a temperate region might’ve already had chickenpox; many kids from Central America are still “immunologically naive”—that is, they haven’t been exposed to the virus.

But please don’t flip out, Internet. Most Americans are immune to this pox, thanks to vaccination or prior infection. Here in Texas, 90 percent of kids are vaccinated against varicella by age 3, according to the Department of State Health Services.

Like lice and scabies, chickenpox spreads more quickly in crowded and unsanitary conditions. The refugee kids who get chickenpox are likely to be itchy and miserable—and quarantined—for a couple of weeks, until the virus subsides.

If we want to spare them that ordeal, adequate hand-washing facilities in the detention centers might be a good place to start. We could also offer the children prompt varicella vaccination, as a recently published article in the journal International Health recommends. We should also move kids quickly from detention centers into the safety of families.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Texas medical system has its problems. But if the biggest “health threats” these kids from Central America bring are head lice, some twisted ankles and 23 cases of chickenpox, well, Texas can handle that.

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  • 1bimbo

    those with compromised immune systems, babies, the elderly and particularly polynesian people have increased chance of death from varicella exposure.. but never you mind, what’s a few deaths here and there due to out-of-control illegal immigration.. no biggie.. and the rest of us understand that looney liberals are one with their parasites, so chances of skin infections, blood poisoning and septicimia caused by rampant scabies and lice outbreaks are just an itchy smelly inconvenience.. childless freaks want you to embrace 3rd world conditions.. lovely

    • Big Cat

      another reason, if true, you should be upset with our policies in the region. the fact that you are using the same fear mongering that have labeled all immigrant groups since the 1800’s doesn’t surprise me and gives little credence to your argument. i would understand more if you just simply posted ‘i’m scared’.

      • 1bimbo

        calling truth ‘fear mongering’ is a cop out and an obvious attempt to cover the president’s failure to enforce immigration laws.. your dismissive fear assessment holds no weight in our debate.. who the h*ll benefits from trying to dismiss concerns about an open border? nobody but illegals and those who h8 conservatives.. let me make this clear-the vast majority of people are p i s s e d and disappointed that the executive branch of our government cares more about playing politics, manipulating the masses and creating chaos than public health, proper governance, honesty and rule of law.. you should be ashamed for our country, for our leadership and .. ashamed of your dishonesty and permissiveness about the health risks

        • Big Cat

          yes you are scared, when you repeat centuries old immigrant discrimination and prejudice, calling you scared is being kind. protect me from the brown invasion!!!!!!! were you this fearful when the Croatians immigrated here? you dismissed decades of imperial involvement in the region, funding of death squads, and no mention that theses parents are sending these kids here to escape the result of americas appetite for drugs. building half a wall didn’t relieve your concerns and make you feel safer? if you told the the truth you would say that this country has never had a secure southern border and maybe now its time to do so. since you didn’t the scarlet F you deserve is warranted. I’m ashamed that we caused the problem theses kids are fleeing. you should really appreciate the president since he’s deported 1.5 times more immigrants than his predecessor…..appreciate it if immigrant is code word for mexican

          • 1bimbo

            what is the obsession with progressive socialist liberal democrats laying blame anywhere but where it belongs.. either you’re complicit or you’ve been duped by the feds.. honduras, guatemala, el salvador-those countries are corrupt, socialist viper pits feeding off the misery of their own people, their leaders are now scraping out the backlog of their socialized health care system.. they are clearing out their welfare rolls.. those derelict parents are selling out their children, endangering them, to flee one free ride for another.. add that to the fact central americans have privileged ‘permisos’ status over mexicans.. you need to educate yourself, it’s permissive enablers like you who keep coyotes in business.. and you obviously suffer from Battered Donkey Party Syndrome

          • Big Cat

            good point why do the mexicans have privileged status? what do care if they’re mexican, guatemalan, you still fear them. thanks for addressing the points i made. president of honduras is progressive as well. i know honduras is corrupt and dangerous, the last presidents son was kidnapped by thugs. i got more information from what you didn’t say