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Chickenpox Outbreak Confirmed in Knox County

September 24, 2015 - 7:30 PM

With outbreaks of measles and mumps in Central Ohio during the past year, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there is now an outbreak of chickenpox. The Knox County Health Department has confirmed an outbreak of chickenpox among an Amish community in the south-eastern portion of the county.


Similar to the measles and mumps outbreaks which came from unvaccinated individuals coming in contact with someone with active disease, this chickenpox outbreak is comparable, yet different, stemming from an unvaccinated population being exposed to someone with shingles.


“This is a unique situation because we are dealing with a single virus that can cause two different types of illness”, said Adam Masters, an epidemiologist with the Knox County Health Department. The virus in question is varicella-zoster (VZV) and it follows a progression, first causing chickenpox and then lying dormant and possibly reactivating later in life to cause shingles.


A person with active virus, either chickenpox or shingles, will be contagious to those with no protection and those individuals, if exposed, can develop chickenpox. “Shingles is considered to be less contagious than chickenpox but poses a threat especially among a population of unvaccinated people once the first case of chickenpox develops from exposure to someone with shingles. Once chickenpox emerges, it can spread rapidly among those with no protection,” Masters said.


This is the second time in the past year that an Ohio Amish community has experienced an outbreak of a communicable disease. “This is a group that usually does not get vaccinated, because of holistic reasons. But, anyone who has never had the chickenpox or has never been vaccinated is at risk to catch the chickenpox from someone with shingles,” Masters said. 


Most people get chickenpox from exposure to other people with chickenpox. It is most often spread through sneezing, coughing, and breathing. It is so contagious that few non-immunized people escape this common disease when they are exposed to someone else with the disease.


When people with chickenpox cough or sneeze, they expel tiny droplets that carry the varicella virus. If a person who has never had chickenpox or never been vaccinated inhales these particles, the virus enters the lungs. From here it passes into the bloodstream. When it is carried to the skin it produces the typical rash of chickenpox.


People can also catch chickenpox from direct contact with a shingles rash if they have not been immunized by vaccination or by a previous bout of chickenpox. In such cases, transmission happens during the active phase when blisters have erupted but not formed dry crusts.


“On the other hand, a person with shingles cannot transmit the virus by breathing or coughing,” said Masters. “Unvaccinated people can only catch chickenpox from someone with shingles when they come in contact with the actual rash or blisters.”


The health department offers vaccine for both the chickenpox and shingles. Two doses of chickenpox vaccine are recommended for children, adolescents, and adults. Children should receive the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old. Individuals who are 13 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, should get two doses at least 28 days apart.


People 60 years of age or older should get the shingles vaccine. They should get the vaccine whether or not they recall having had chickenpox. Studies show that more than 99% of Americans aged 40 and older have had chickenpox, even if they don't remember getting the disease. There is no maximum age for getting shingles vaccine. Even if you have had shingles, you can still receive shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease.


For more information or to schedule an appointment to receive the chickenpox or shingles vaccine, contact the clinic at the health department at 740-399-8009.


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