News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 20, 2012

Chickenpox outbreak: 100 cases in Vigo County

Growing number of cases has caught attention of Centers for Disease Control

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County’s chickenpox outbreak continues to grow, with the health department reporting that as of Friday, the county has had more than 100 confirmed cases of varicella (chickenpox).

The outbreak even has the attention of the Centers for Disease Control, said Joni Wise, Vigo County health department administrator.

As a result of the growing outbreak, the county health department is “strongly recommending” optimal vaccination for children over the age of 12 months “as a specific control measure for chickenpox.”

During an outbreak, a second dose is recommended and can be administered 28 days following the first dose to increase levels of immunity and curtail spread of disease.

“Children over the age of 12 months need to be optimally immunized against chickenpox,” states a health department news release.

Another control measure is restriction of activities.

If one child gets chickenpox at a pre-school or a licensed/unlicensed day care, all other children who have not previously received their second vaccination can be excluded for 21 days of the diagnosed case, according to the news release.

Wise said the health department is strongly recommending those measures, including optimal immunization of children over 12 months and exclusion of under-vaccinated young children if a child care/day care facility has one case of chickenpox.

But she also adds, there “is no way to police it.”

Whereas the Vigo County School Corp. has copies of all student immunization records, “we don’t have any way to do that with” day care facilities, Wise said.

She believes child care and day care programs are “doing the right things, that is, sending children home if they have the appearance of chickenpox. … No day care provider wants an outbreak of anything” in their program.

“That’s such a vulnerable population,” Wise said.

If the health department receives reports and becomes aware of chickenpox “activity” at a child care setting, it will work with the facility to address the problem, she said.

The county has been consulting with the state, Wise said.

Complicating matters, health officials believe the chickenpox affecting Vigo County students is a “break-through” virus, Wise has said previously. That means the virus is slightly different from a traditional “wild type” chickenpox virus and can even affect people who have been immunized against the disease. It has a slightly different rash.

When the outbreak was first declared, many of those identified with chickenpox had two “valid” doses of  chickenpox vaccine, normally considered enough for immunity.

Some area doctors were not aware they were seeing cases of chickenpox, and as a result, they sent kids back to school with the disease. The county health department worked with the state to develop a letter to send to local doctors to alert them, she said.

Also, some doctors are reluctant to give young children a second dose of the vaccination, Wise said. “That has been a challenge,”

she said.

When contacted for comment late Monday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent an email response, provided by Jeanette St. Pierre, with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

“The Indiana Health Department is conducting the disease investigation. CDC is helping by answering questions, offering laboratory support and providing general guidance to Indiana,” St. Pierre said.

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