Chickenpox Affecting Spokane Schools

Chickenpox Affecting Spokane Schools

Dec 02, 2008

Two Spokane area elementary schools have been experiencing outbreaks of chickenpox. This has prompted the Spokane Regional Health District to take action to stop the spread of the disease, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and made in consultation with the Washington State Department of Health, and Spokane Public Schools officials.

Students from Madison Elementary School and Holmes Elementary School who are at risk for acquiring the disease are being kept home from school until an outbreak of chickenpox has ended, or until their parents can provide proof of vaccination or immunity. Parents of students have been sent a letter alerting them that chickenpox is occurring and urging them to vaccinate their children and to provide updated shot records in case the disease spreads.

"Although many people believe that chickenpox is a mild, expected disease of childhood, chickenpox can be very serious," said Bill Edstrom, epidemiologist for the Spokane Regional Health District. "For this reason, Washington State began a phased-in requirement for all school children to be vaccinated against this disease. Vaccine has been available and recommended for all children since 1995."

During an outbreak, all children, staff and other adults who are working or volunteering in the affected classrooms and who are at risk for the disease are sent home in order to stop the spread of the illness, as recommended by the CDC. Currently, children and staff in the affected classrooms without proof of vaccination or previous disease are being sent home for up to 21 days. If the outbreak continues, this exclusion may be expanded to include all students and staff without proof of vaccination or previous disease.

It is not possible to predict who will have a mild case of chickenpox and who will have a serious or even deadly case of disease. Even with uncomplicated cases, children with chickenpox miss an average of 5-6 days of school, and parents or other caregivers miss 3-4 days of work to care for sick children. Compared with children, adults are at increased risk of complications related to chickenpox. 

Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection with varicella-the virus that causes chickenpox-both in an individual and in the community. Widespread vaccination also reduces the risk of exposure to infection for persons at risk for serious disease who cannot be vaccinated because of illness or other conditions. The vaccine is safe and effective.

The varicella vaccine is available at most doctors' offices, and at the Spokane Regional Health District's public health clinic (324-1600).

The Spokane Regional Health District has been promoting and protecting the health of the citizens of Spokane for 37 years. Public health succeeds by identifying and addressing patterns of disease, illness, and injury in populations. Through the use of population-based strategies for disease and injury prevention, public health has contributed to the decline in illness and injury, including heart disease and stroke, tobacco-related diseases, infectious diseases and motor vehicle and workplace injuries.