Albuqerque, NM — The New Mexico Department of Health is reporting an increase in the number of cases of chickenpox in school-aged children in the Albuquerque area over the past few weeks. The Department has investigated 8 reported cases since February 3rd, 2014, compared to 3 total cases that were reported in the same age group during January and February of 2013. The majority of cases – 7 out of 8 – have not received two doses of varicella vaccine.
“Chicken pox is highly contagious and 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,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward, MPH . “The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get vaccinated. I’m encouraging all New Mexicans to vaccinate their children against chickenpox.”
Chickenpox, an illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is a very contagious disease that causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. It spreads easily from infected people to others who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. A person who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine can also contract it from somebody with shingles. Before the vaccine, about 4 million people in the U.S. would get the disease each year, with about 10,600 people being hospitalized and 100-150 cases resulting in death.
While complications from chickenpox are not very common in otherwise healthy people who get the disease, certain populations – including infants, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems – are at risk of developing complications that can lead to serious illness, hospitalization, and even death. Serious complications can include dehydration, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, bacterial infection of skin lesions, and more. If a pregnant woman develops varicella rash near the time of delivery, the newborn may be at risk for neonatal varicella.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults. Two doses of the vaccine are about 98% effective at preventing chickenpox. When you get vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself, but others in your community. This is especially important for people who cannot get vaccinated, such as those with weakened immune systems or pregnant women.
People with chickenpox are to stay home until their rash has completely crusted over and avoid contact with infants, pregnant women, and those who are immune compromised. Once the rash has crusted over – typically within 7 days – there is no longer risk of spreading the disease. Children who are unvaccinated may be required to be excluded from school or daycare for up to two weeks if they are exposed to the disease and do not have documentation of a past infection.
The New Mexico Department of Health recommends the following vaccinations to help reduce the spread of chickenpox:
- All children should receive a dose of varicella vaccine at 1 year of age and a second dose at 4-6 years of age.
- For those older than 4 to 6 years of age who have received only one dose, a second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended, even though it is not required for entry into school for those in 5th grade or above.
- Two doses of varicella vaccine should be administered to all adolescents and adults 13 years of age and older who have not been previously immunized and do not have evidence of immunity. The doses should be received at least 4 weeks apart.
New Mexicans can contact their health care provider or pharmacy to get vaccinated. Public health offices offer the vaccine to those without insurance or who are otherwise unable to be immunized. Those with Medicaid or other health insurance are asked to present their insurance card.
For more information on about immunizations, visit the Department’s website at http://www.immunizenm.org/ .