Editorial: What Illinois should learn from measles outbreak
Last fall, Bruce Rauner raised the specter of Ebola in his campaign for governor, calling for a ban on travelers from three western Africa countries and backing mandatory quarantines for people who'd had contact with infected patients.
Ebola never came to Illinois.
But now we have measles, a disease less deadly but much easier to pass from person to person, the way it's happened in the suburbs in the past few weeks.
How did Illinois do in preventing the spread of this serious disease?
On that, Gov. Rauner, the legislature and our public health officials have some work to do.
The outbreak that sickened eight babies at a KinderCare Learning Center in Palatine pointed out a big flaw in strategies to prevent the transmission of measles and other preventable diseases. The babies were vulnerable because they were too young to have been vaccinated against measles.
In spite of that, Illinois does not require day-care workers to be vaccinated. The state does not even require day-care centers to keep track of which staff members are vaccinated.
Now, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services proposes requiring day-care centers to have a policy on staff vaccination. But requiring a policy isn't enough. Requiring vaccinations for people who handle infants every day is. Let's make it mandatory, as KinderCare did after the outbreak.
Moving up a few age groups, Illinois requires measles and other vaccinations for entry to school. And the state does a good job of making sure kids are vaccinated -- we think.
But public health officials don't know the whole picture. Illinois, unlike some other states, doesn't require private schools to register with the state, though hundreds of them do. Those that aren't registered don't report vaccination rates.
While many Illinois schools have nearly every student vaccinated, others have large percentages of students who are not, mostly for religious reasons.
So while state public health officials say more than 98 percent of schoolchildren are vaccinated against measles, they don't know the real vaccination rate.
Illinois allows exemption from vaccination for religious reasons, and those students are complying with state law.
That need not change, but the state should require all schools to report their vaccination rates so public health officials have a real number and so they can identify vulnerable populations if a major outbreak occurs.
Luckily, it appears the rate of new measles cases is slowing down in the suburbs and there are no reports of deaths from the disease.
So, let's consider it a wake-up call. Will we be better prepared when the next disease comes around?