News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 10, 2012

Chickenpox cases concern Vigo health officials

Seven cases reported at 5 schools, one day care center

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — In recent days, seven cases of chickenpox have been confirmed in five Vigo County School Corp. schools and the Indiana State University Child Care Center, according to Jane Keyes, public health nurse with the Vigo County Health Department.

While it’s not considered an outbreak, the department wants to make families aware, she said. “We want to curtail it from becoming one,” she said. An outbreak occurs when there are five cases in one building.

“Right now, we’re warning parents to be on guard and to be watchful of symptoms,” Keyes said. If a child comes down with symptoms, parents should contact their physician.

Another concern is for children who have a compromised immune system or a school staff member who is pregnant. Again, in those cases, families and staff should consult their doctor.

The affected schools — each has one case, and one site has two — are: Farrington Grove, Fayette and Terre Town elementary schools; and Woodrow Wilson and Sarah Scott middle schools. Also affected is the ISU Child Care Center, which had one case, Keyes said.

Another concern is for children who have had just one dose of chickenpox (varicella) vaccine, Keyes said, particularly those children in grades 3, 4 and 5. Those parents may want to contact physicians about their children receiving a second dose.

Two doses are required for a person to be fully immunized, and even then, some people may still develop the disease, Keyes said.

In recent years, vaccination requirements have been added, and under current Indiana law:

• Students in kindergarten, first and second grades must have two doses of chickenpox vaccine or have a history of the disease.

• Students in grades 6-12 must have two doses of chickenpox vaccine or a history of the disease.

Children in grades 3 to 5 might not have received the second dose and may need to “catch up,” Keyes said.

Health officials don’t want families to panic, but they do want them to be informed, she said. “We want to be proactive.”

Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness and fever.

Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults and people with weakened immune systems. It spreads easily from infected people to others who have never had chickenpox or have not been vaccinated against the disease. Chickenpox spreads in the air through coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters.

“Chickenpox can make you very sick, especially if you have a compromised immune system,” Keyes said.

The health department first learned of the chickenpox cases Friday, and there have been more this week.

If there is an outbreak, “We follow Indiana State Department of Health guidelines” in notifying family and the public to get the word out, Keyes said.

A phone message was being sent to parents at the affected VCSC schools, Superintendent Dan Tanoos said Tuesday afternoon.

Ray Azar, VCSC director of student services, noted that school nurses “have worked since the first day of school to notify parents to be sure their children’s immunizations are up to date.”  

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.