School hit with chicken pox
Twenty confirmed cases of chickenpox have been reported, affecting students attending Jeremy Ranch Elementary School. The first suspected cases were reported at the school on Oct.17.
"We had three confirmed cases on Tuesday, and by the end of the day we had sent 11 students home," said Jeremy Ranch principal Michele Wallace. "We haven’t had something like this for a couple of years."
Wednesday, Oct. 19, Jeremy Ranch Elementary School had 20 confirmed cases, according to Park City School District nurse Anne Alexander.
According to a letter sent by the school district, and the Utah Department of Health, chickenpox, a highly communicable viral disease, characterized by a rash-like bumps which may turn into blisters, is often accompanied by a fever. For most people it is a relatively mild disease that often runs its course in two weeks or less, but it can be serious, in younger and especially in older people.
Most Utah school students have been immunized against the disease, but it is still possible for them to contract a usually far-milder case of the virus. Wallace said all of the students sent home had previously been vaccinated.
"This is kind of a surprise to parents, who may believe that immunized children cannot get chickenpox," Wallace said.
The outbreak occurred among second-grade students. Several parents of absent students called the school to report chickenpox-like symptoms in their children, and 11 children at school complained of symptoms. Alexander observed and consulted with the affected students, and advised administrators to send the students home.
"They were definitely marked (with bumps) and needed to go home," Wallace said.
Students’ parents were called, and teachers were informed of the possible virus. Jeremy Ranch Elementary School sent letters to parents informing them of the virus, its symptoms and who to contact with further questions. Students in the classroom were not informed of the viral concern.
"I didn’t want to create a scary situation at the school," Alexander said. "I was over to Jeremy Ranch in 15 minutes. We checked the students and when we suspected chickenpox, we called their parents to pick them up. We administered to them where other students would not be exposed."
Nurse-manager Nathalie Odernheimer of Park City Family Health Center, said the center had treated several patients with chickenpox, but that was not unusual.
Since 1996, Utah public schools have required that students be vaccinated against the Varicella-Zoster virus that causes chickenpox. Students receive the vaccination before entering kindergarten, unless their parents request an exemption for personal, philosophical or medical reasons.
Rachelle Boulton, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, Office of Epidemiology, said she had received no data on chickenpox cases at Jeremy Ranch, but that first cases had to be reported to The Summit County Health Department, and from there the information would be sent to her office.
Before the introduction of vaccinations, chickenpox was characterized as a right-of-passage of children, with a high percentage of children contracting the virus.
A person can be contagious before displaying any symptoms. The virus is contracted by contact and also can be transmitted as an airborne disease. Alexander recommended diligent hand washing.
The school district’s newsletter warns parents that the incubation period of chickenpox is from 10-21 days. People who have contracted the virus are most contagious one to two days before a rash appears to shortly after the rash appears. When blisters from an infected person have formed scabs, the person is no longer contagious.
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