CCSD warns parents of chicken pox outbreak at Wando High School

CCSD warns parents of chicken pox outbreak at Wando High School
Chicken pox blisters on a 5-year-old boy. (Source: Jonny McCullagh/Wikimedia)
Chicken pox blisters on a 5-year-old boy. (Source: Jonny McCullagh/Wikimedia)

MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District is working to make sure a chicken pox outbreak at Wando High School is contained.

District officials say there have been five students confirmed with the virus this week, but say unvaccinated students may have been exposed.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends a person get two shots, one as a baby and another sometime after five years old.

Students who have only received one shot and have never gotten chicken pox are asked to get a second as a precaution. Students who have never received the vaccination can get it and return to school.

If they chose not to for religious or medical reasons, which is legal but not common, will have to stay out of school for 21 days to prevent the further spread of this virus.

The school reached out to the parents of 50 students who were listed as "non-compliant," meaning they had not shown that they had either had chicken pox in the part or had received the vaccine. District officials say as of now 28 of those 50 are now compliant or cleared, indicating they either received the vaccine or showed proof their children had previously suffered from chicken pox.

School officials say that leaves 22 students as "non-compliant," but they say they expect that number to drop in the following days as parents provide proof of vaccination or prior diagnosis.

"We've had a couple patients from Wando High come here concerned that they may actually get the virus from a student that was diagnosed," said Matt Erickson, assistant medical director at Health First.

Most students aren't at high risk for getting the virus. They've have either had chicken pox as a kid or were vaccinated.

"Most kids get it at one year old and then they repeat it at five years old. If you haven't gotten it by your fifth birthday, you can get it anytime in life. It's recommended to get two doses," said Erickson.

Due to the outbreak, DHEC is requiring that Wando High students get the vaccine shot.Erickson says the vaccine is most effective if taken within three to five days of exposure to the virus.

Chicken pox can be spread by touching or breathing. Symptoms to look for are fever, cold-like symptoms and a rash of red bumps and blisters.

"To diagnose it, they need all three stages at once - red bumps, blisters and scabbing," said Erickson.

The students who have the virus are also in for a long, uncomfortable recovery.

"Patients need to stay out [of school] until all of their lesions scab over. So, all over the blisters have to be scabs to determine they're not contagious," said Erickson.

"The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine," South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley said. "Children, adolescent and adults should get 2 doses of chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox vaccine is very safe and effective at preventing the disease."

Beasley said DHEC was notified of several Wando students being diagnosed with varicella, also known as "chicken pox." Since an initial letter was sent out to parents on March 16, the school reported additional students with the diagnosis, leading to a second letter being sent out on April 19.

According to DHEC, chicken pox, also known as Varicella, is a highly-contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, part of the herpes family. A skin rash of blister-like lesions, usually on the face, scalp, or trunk is the most common symptom, according to the agency's website:

The rash appears first on the trunk and face, but can spread over the entire body causing between 250 to 500 itchy blisters. Children usually miss 5 or 6 days of school or childcare due to their chickenpox. About half of all children with chickenpox visit a doctor due to symptoms such as high fever, severe itching, an uncomfortable rash, dehydration or headache. In addition, about 1 child in 10 has a complication from chickenpox serious enough to visit a doctor including infected skin lesions, other infections, dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea, attack of asthma, or pneumonia. Most cases of chickenpox occur in persons less than 15 years old.

The CDC changed the recommendations for the chicken pox vaccine from one dose to two doses in 2007 based on new research about how to get maximum protection from the disease, Beasley said. Because of the change, not all older children received a second dose of the vaccine when they were young.

DHEC records indicate for the 2015-2016 school year, Charleston County public and private schools reported 0.3 percent of students with a medical exemption and 1.12 percent of students with a religious exemption for the vaccination. Of the 34 probable or confirmed cases reported to DHEC in South Carolina so far this year, Charleston County has the second-highest with five. Aiken County has reported seven cases, and no other county has reported more than four, DHEC says.

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