The Ministry of Public Health is currently monitoring an outbreak of chickenpox at the Paramakatoi School’s Dormitory, in Region Eight, that has so far affected 160 persons.
This was disclosed yesterday by Minister of Public Health Dr. George Norton, who told a press conference that the ministry has been made aware of a culmination of 160 cases so far affecting students of the school’s dormitory over a one-week period.
A team from the Ministry of Public Health, including Junior Minister Karen Cummings, is expected to travel to the area today to gather more information.
In the meantime, medical and environmental teams are on the ground working to prevent the spread of the virus and treat all infected children.
Efforts have also been made to make available the necessary pharmaceuticals that would be required in that area, including the Varicella vaccine that will be administered to prevent contraction of the disease by persons who have not been infected.
Director of Adolescent Health of the Ministry of Public Health Dr. Oneka Scott, who was also present at the press conference, explained that the vaccine is not part of the regular immunization schedule but was introduced for vulnerable populations, such as dorms, orphanages, health care workers, port health officers and sanitary workers, from March last year.
“This vaccine will be administered to everyone who has not been previously affected by chickenpox as well as those who are not currently affected by chickenpox. It’s a preventative method that is relatively safe and relatively effective; [the] best source of prevention apart from all the preventative measures that are expected to be implemented,” Scott said.
But apart from vaccination, there will also be a robust education and hygiene campaign that will be implemented by the environmental team to educate the general public on how to implement the preventative measures, such as not sharing utensils and covering the mouth during coughing, and how to identify the symptoms of chicken pox.
Meanwhile, with 160 students affected by the outbreak, the Ministry of Education has taken the decision to suspend school. Affected students will be housed separately from those who remain uninfected by the virus.
The uninfected will also be given preventative medications with Acyclovir tablets.
Varicella, commonly known as chickenpox, is a disease that is caused by the Varicella -Zoster Virus (VZV). Patients develop a blister-like rash or boil, which first appears on the face and trunk, and then spreads throughout the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids and in the genital area.
The virus is airborne and can be spread mainly through tiny droplets from infected persons when they breathe, talk, cough or sneeze. Symptoms include the presence of a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs, mild to moderate fever, tiredness, loss of appetite and headaches.
Though not common, chickenpox can also lead to serious issues, such as skin infections, dehydration, pneumonia and swelling of the brain.
According to a Public Health Ministry statement, chickenpox has an incubation period of between 10 and 21 days, meaning the rash will appear from 10 to 21 days after the virus has infected the patient. However, it said an infected person is contagious about two days before the rash appears, and then continues being contagious for another four to five days until all the blisters have formed scabs.
Treatment of the virus, the ministry noted, includes the use of non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, to relieve fever from chickenpox, Calamine lotion, which may help prevent itching and irritation of the skin, as well the administering of antiviral medications in specific cases.
However, the chickenpox vaccine is considered the best way to prevent the contraction of chickenpox. Children, adolescents, and adults, it is recommended, should get two doses of the vaccine, which is considered very safe and effective at preventing the disease. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild—with fewer red spots or boils and mild or no fever. The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe disease.
In cases where vaccination is not possible, the ministry said preventative measures must be taken from coming into contact with droplets of saliva and the blisters of an infected person. This includes hand washing, protection when sneezing and coughing, and not sharing utensils.