September 6, 2005
Texas Commissioner of State Health Services Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., said today that students displaced by Hurricane Katrina enrolling in Texas schools pose no increased health risk to Texas students.
Sanchez said some Texas parents have expressed concerns about health risks to their own children from the incoming students’ exposure to floodwater and their vaccination status.
He called the concerns “understandable but unfounded.”
“Many of these kids were not exposed to floodwater,” Sanchez said. “And those who were exposed are being evaluated in the various shelters for types of exposure and monitored for illness symptoms and are getting treatment if they need it. Standard practice says any child, not just evacuees, who’s sick should not be sent to school.”
He also said routine in-school prevention measures such as frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and warm water, especially after visits to the restroom and before eating, should be practiced. “This is a critical control measure that always should be followed, hurricane or not.”
Sanchez said the primary illness threat from exposure to floodwater is tetanus, which is not spread person-to-person. Other flood-related threats are diarrheal illnesses such as shigellosis and salmonellosis. Symptoms of the diarrheal illnesses usually occur within a few days of exposure.
None of the illnesses typically associated with floods is considered airborne, he said.
In addressing concerns about vaccination status, Sanchez said that immunization requirements for school attendance in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are similar to those in Texas. “Just because they didn’t escape with their shot records, doesn’t mean they haven’t had their shots. If they were in school in those states, chances are they are immunized,” he said.
“Even if some weren’t vaccinated, the vaccines the Texas kids have received would protect them against measles, mumps, chicken pox and other vaccine-preventable illnesses,” Sanchez added. He also noted that there were no pre-hurricane reports of unusual numbers of these illnesses in the areas hit by Katrina. “In this situation, with no increased occurrence in those states, there’s no increased risk here.”
(News media: for more information contact Doug McBride, DSHS Press Officer, Austin, 512-458-7524.)