LuAnn Burgmuller, RN, Director
Ravalli County Public Health
205 Bedford Street, Suite L
Hamilton, MT 59840

Often, we hear "What's the big deal about chickenpox? I had it as a kid!" Prior to the availability of varicella (chickenpox) vaccine (1995) there were approximately 4 million cases of varicella a year in the U.S. Though usually a mild disease in healthy children, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people developed complications, about 11,000 people required hospitalization and 100 people died each year from varicella according to the Centers for Disease Control. Chickenpox can particularly cause problems for newborns, pregnant women, teens, adults, and people who have immune system problems that make it hard for the body to fight infection.

The chickenpox virus spreads both through the air (by sneezing and coughing), and by direct contact with saliva, mucous, or fluid from blisters. Chickenpox is contagious from about 2 days before the rash appears until all the blisters are crusted over. A child with chickenpox should be kept out of school until all blisters have dried, usually about 1 week.

Chickenpox is very contagious - most children with a sibling who's been infected will get it as well (if they haven't already had the disease or the vaccine). Symptoms appear about 2 weeks after the first child becomes ill. To help keep disease from spreading, make sure your kids wash their hands frequently, particularly before eating and after using the bathroom. Keep a child with chickenpox away from unvaccinated siblings as much as possible.

After you have had chickenpox, you are not likely to get it again. The virus, however, stays in your body long after you get over the illness. If the virus becomes active again, it can cause a painful viral infection called shingles. People who haven't had chickenpox or the vaccine also can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles, but they cannot catch shingles itself.

The varicella vaccine is 98% effective at preventing the chickenpox infection and is given to kids in two doses- usually when they are 12 to 15 months old, and again at 4 to 6 years old. This year, the Montana State legislature passed a law requiring all public school students (K-12) to have two doses of varicella vaccine or documentation of having chickenpox disease. In addition, all students grade 7-12 will need a record of receiving one dose of Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis). The changes to the law were made by the Montana legislature to bring Montana's immunization requirements more in line with the most current immunization recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP). Prior to this ruling, Montana was the only state that did not require the varicella series and one of five states not requiring a pertussis booster at middle school for attendance.

Talk to your health care provider about the recommended immunizations for your child (and yourself!) Ravalli County Public Health is also happy to help parents review immunization records and administer needed vaccines.
Together we can reduce the occurrence of vaccine preventable diseases and strive for a healthier community!

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact LuAnn Burgmuller, RN, Director of Ravalli County Public Health, 205 Bedford Street, Suite L, Hamilton MT (next to the museum). Open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm (closed from 12:00noon to 1:00pm). Working together to build a healthier community!


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