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Oklahoma lawmaker wants quarantine of migrant children housed in state

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma state lawmaker called on Monday for the quarantine of unaccompanied immigrant children housed at an Oklahoma military base, but U.S. health officials said such a move was unnecessary.

Republican State Representative Mike Ritze sent letters to Governor Mary Fallin and other officials asking them to take steps to "ensure the protection of Oklahoma citizens from contagious diseases following the federal government's decision to house illegal immigrant children at Ft. Sill."

Last month, facilities at the base outside Oklahoma City started housing hundreds of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the United States this year from Central American countries..

"As a physician ... I am concerned about the possibility of communicable diseases being carried by a population that does not have the same vaccination requirements as in the U.S.," he wrote, echoing a call made by several prominent Republicans that the children could be carrying diseases.

The Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement it "does not believe the children arriving at U.S. borders pose a public health risk to the general public or U.S. communities."

Central American countries fare relatively well in terms of immunization rates thanks to public health programs, according to U.N. and World Bank data.

The immunization rate in 2012 for measles for children aged 12 to 23 months was higher in Nicaragua at 99 percent, and El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras at 93 percent than the 92 percent rate in the United States, according to the World Bank data.

Oklahoma health officials said immigrant children housed at Fort Sill who had communicable diseases were quarantined. Those who do not have such diseases receive necessary vaccinations.

"They are also screened for tuberculosis and receive a mental health exam," said Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs with the Department of Health and Human Services.

(Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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