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Chicken pox outbreak reported in local schools

By Staff | May 13, 2010

Officials from the Lee County Health Department are reporting a chicken pox outbreak in local schools.
The amount of children who contracted the virus in 2008 was 12 and that increased by three cases in 2009, but Jennifer James-Mesloh, spokesperson for the health department, said 41 cases have already been documented in only the first half of 2010.
“You’re always going to have break out cases, no vaccine is 100 percent effective, but as of May we’ve had 41 cases,” she said. “That indicates that we’re at a higher than expected number of cases for the year.”
The chicken pox vaccine was first administered to school children in 1995 and before that children, as a right of passage, simply dealt with the uncomfortable symptoms associated with the virus. Many families even held “chicken pox parties” to make sure their children were exposed at a young age.
Today, nearly all children receive the varicella vaccine before entering school, but James-Mesloh said many should return to the health department for a second dose. Out of the 41 cases reported, many were found in children who already received the first dose, she said.
“For children in second grade and higher, they may have received only one dose of chicken pox vaccine when they entered school, so get the second dose for your child if you have not already done so,” said Dr. Judith Hartner, director of the Lee County Health Department.
Two years ago the Centers for Disease Control recommended all children receive two shots of varicella, but there are many older children who only received the one. If children get the second dose, there is a 98 percent chance they won’t have chicken pox.
The 41 cases are also not isolated to one school or specific region of Lee County.
“It is predominately in school settings. What we’re seeing is all age ranges, however the majority are elementary age,” said James-Mesloh. “But it’s not confined to one section of the county.”
She said the school district has been sending letters to families notifying them of a possible exposure to the virus.
Joe Donzelli, spokesperson for the Lee County School District, said letters aren’t going home with every student, just those who need to take precautions because they have not been fully immunized. These are students who were exempted from receiving the vaccine for medical or religious reasons.
The county health department now wants to broaden its message and inform families that the virus may be spreading.
And that children who contract chicken pox should stay home.
It is most contagious in the first two days of exposure before a rash appears and has an incubation period of between 10-21 days, according to information released by the county health department.
Symptoms of the virus include a rash and blisters, as well as a fever, runny nose and cough. But, once the blisters have scabs the virus will no longer spread, said officials.
Chicken pox vaccines are free for anyone under the age of 18 at one of four Lee County Health Department locations. James-Mesloh said adults seeking the vaccine pay $25.
Cape Coral residents can visit the North Fort Myers clinic at 83 Pondella Road on May 13 and May 19 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., or the Fort Myers clinic on 3920 Michigan Ave. on Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or Friday from 1-3 p.m.