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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

Secrecy in Hepatitis Cases at School Angers Parents

March 23, 2000

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Officials at Ambuehl Elementary School were besieged Wednesday by angry parents complaining that they had not been told for months that two brothers at the school had hepatitis A.

Health officials defended their decision as they prepared to inoculate hundreds of students and some staff today at the school, where a third student was reported to have the illness Friday.

Some parents said the school withheld critical information about the cases for two months. Others wrongly thought the disease generally carries lifelong consequences, which is true of hepatitis B and C, but not A.

Kim Herkewitz, whose son is a fifth-grader at Ambuehl, said she would rather have known about the risk so she could have had a choice about immunizing her son.

"This was poor judgment from the beginning," she said. "This is a policy that would invite infection to take over."

Principal Cheryl Spetrino said information about the first two cases of the disease, which involved brothers in kindergarten and fourth grade, was closely held on the advice of officials at the Orange County Health Care Agency. It wasn't until a third case appeared in a fourth-grade student over the last week that school officials decided to send an informational letter home to parents.

Dr. Hildy Meyers, the county epidemiologist, defended her decision, saying to do otherwise might have caused unnecessary hysteria and misuse of medical resources. While household transmission of hepatitis A is common, it is rarely transmitted through classroom contact, she said, noting that the first two cases were confined to one family.

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