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
“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,”
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
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
“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
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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