Small outbreak of chickenpox reported

A few small clusters of chickenpox cases have been confirmed in two schools on Island, and as of Thursday, the total number of cases was 10, according to Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kiran Kumar.

He said he preferred not to name the schools, adding that the principals had been informed and had sent letters home to parents.

He said five cases apparently stemmed from close contact among families and neighbours, with a couple of other children exposed in classrooms.

Public Health officials issued a press release last week asking parents to keep sick children home to stop a further spread.

Vaccines were available on Saturday at the General Practice Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital for children or parents who had never received the immunisation or needed a booster.

“We are monitoring the disease and our school nurses are in regular contact with schools so the affected children can be kept home until the lesions are crusted, which usually occurs in five to seven days time,” Dr. Kumar said in a press release.

“We also met the school authorities and organised to offer vaccination at the affected schools.”

Children in the Cayman Islands are generally immunised against chickenpox at the age of 12 months. The chickenpox vaccine has been part of the local immunisation schedule since 2000, health officials reported.

“The public need not be alarmed as about 75-100 cases are reported annually in the Cayman Islands with fluctuations,” Dr. Kumars said. “As of this month [September], there have already been 52 reported cases with half of them in children under the age of 15. This is a sharp rise from last year’s total of 29 cases but still far less than the 104 cases reported for 2009.

“There will be many more unreported cases. People who had chickenpox already will have natural immunisation. However, for persons who have not had chickenpox, we recommend that you get vaccinated,” Dr. Kumar said.

For more information, contact the Public Health Department on 244–2648.

what is chickenpox?
a disease caused by infection with the varicella zoster virus, which causes fever and an itchy rash.

how prevalent is chickenpox? 
the disease occurs worldwide and is estimated that at least 90 per cent of the population in temperate climate has had chickenpox by age 15. about 75-100 cases are reported annually in the cayman islands. there may be many unreported cases.

how is chickenpox spread? 
from person to person by direct contact with cough and sneeze droplets (highly contagious), and by contact with the virus from skin lesions.

how soon do symptoms occur?

chickenpox usually takes two to three weeks to incubate causing a person to become ill.

what are the signs and symptoms of chickenpox?

• a skin rash of blister-like lesions, covering the body but usually more concentrated on the face, scalp, and trunk.

• most, but not all, infected individuals have fever, which develops just before or when the rash appears.

• if exposed, persons who have been vaccinated against the disease may get a milder illness, with less severe rash (sometimes involving only a few red bumps that look similar to insect bites) and mild or no fever.

period of communicability: usually 1-2 days before onset of the rash, and continuing until all lesions are crusted (usually about 5 days).

methods of preventing and controlling chickenpox:

• varicella (chicken pox) vaccine can prevent this disease. currently, a single dose is given at 12 months as per immunization schedule.

• vaccine is recommended to all unimmunised children or who never had the chicken pox disease.

• a booster dose will be beneficial during an outbreak.

• avoiding contact with chicken pox patients during the period of communicability .i.e. may mean staying away from school or work until all vesicles are completely scabbed over.

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