A 3-year-old victim of herpes, labeled a health threat by teachers and parents at an Anne Arundel County board of education meeting this week, will not begin public school Monday as planned.
His parents, responding to concern from about 100 parents who said they would withdraw their children from Pasadena Elementary School if the boy should enroll, have decided to keep their son at home, at least for the time being, said a school official today.
The parents, who live in Pasadena, could not be reached for comment.
Herpes, known medically as herpes simplex, is a widespread and contagious skin disorder that commonly results in lesions or blisters on the skin. Concern over the virus has grown in recent years with the increased incidence of genital herpes, which can infect and handicap children at birth if the mother is infected. The disease is very painful and can travel through the nervous sytem and cause blindness, nervous disorders and brain damage.
School officials said it was not known how this boy, whose name was not released, contracted the disease or if he has the genital form, or the more common variation that results in cold sores and other skin blisters.
The boy, who also has a speech impairment, was taught by county teachers in his home for the past year under a state-mandated program for developmentally disabled infants. Under a plan worked out between his parents and school officials to meet federal requirements for the child's education, he was to begin attending public school in September for 2 hours and 15 minutes a day, but his entrance was delayed by school officials to allow other parents to be notified about his disease.
The boy's speech disability is unrelated to the herpes virus, said Mary Madeleine, director of special education for Anne Arundel County schools. She said that the boy's illness and any possible health threat had been "blown out of perspective."
The Centers for Disease Control's established medical policy is for students with the disease to attend school, she said.
"It is not a quarantinable disease or even a reportable disease and that's our quandary," she said, noting that there are no laws requiring herpes to be reported to health officials. "The word causes panic and we're assured that that child belongs in school. It's very clear that that child should be in school."
In addition to opposition from parents, the county teachers' association is asking for some assurances before the boy is enrolled. In a letter to Robert C. Rice, superintendent of schools, union president Tom Paolino asked that the county agree to cover all costs for any teacher of herpes-afflicted children against suit from other children should they be infected and give assurance that any teacher who contracts the virus be allowed to continue teaching.
Although the boy was diagnosed as having herpes shortly after birth, doctors have not determined whether he suffers from Type I, the common virus resulting in cold sores, or Type II, known as genital herpes, Madeleine said.
Health officials said that unless lesions were open and came in contact with open wounds on another child or on a teacher, the boy would pose no health threat. Madeleine said the boy would not attend school with open lesions.
Dr. Pamela Moore, director of the county health department's school health services, said that 40 percent of children in this country have contracted herpes by age 14, perhaps without ever having a visible sore. She added that 80 percent of adults have one of the types of herpes, usually Type I.