Tuesday, January 18, 2011
For years, the common approach to chickenpox was to “get it young, and get it over with.” The Sedgwick County Health Department wants citizens to know that a much better alternative exists – don’t get it at all.
The Health Department routinely administers chickenpox vaccine for all ages at its West Central location (2716 W. Central). With help from special funding, they are offering it free to children between the ages of 10 and 18 years, while supplies last. A sliding fee scale is available for those under the age of 10 who qualify. The Health Department also accepts private insurance. Immunizations are offered on a walk-in basis. No appointment is needed.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent chickenpox (known medically as varicella). The CDC recommends two doses of varicella vaccine for people of all ages who have not had chickenpox. Currently, children attending Kansas schools are required by State law to have had the vaccine, unless a history of chickenpox has been documented by a licensed physician. The law requires:
• One dose for children in grades 2-10
• Two doses for anyone younger
The two dose criteria will be expanded to include more children in the fall.
“Some parents and caregivers feel that chickenpox is usually not serious and feel it is okay if their child gets the disease,” said Sedgwick County Health Department Director Claudia Blackburn. “Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict who will have a mild case of chickenpox and who will have a serious or even deadly case.”
Chickenpox is highly contagious and spreads person-to-person by close contact with skin lesions or the cough/sneeze of an infected person.
In unvaccinated children, chickenpox most commonly causes an illness that lasts about 5-10 days with symptoms such as high fever, an uncomfortable rash with 250 to 500 itchy blisters, and dehydration or headache.
About one in 10 unvaccinated children who get chickenpox will have a complication that is serious enough to require a visit to his or her healthcare provider. These complications include infected skin lesions and other infections, dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea, or more serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.
In vaccinated children, chickenpox illness is typically mild, producing no symptoms at all other than a few red bumps. However, 25 to 30% of vaccinated children who get the disease will develop illness as serious as unvaccinated children.
Health Department epidemiologists have noted an uptick in the number of local cases with 24 cases reported over the past six weeks (and about a dozen potential cases under review). That number is up from eight during the same six week stretch one year ago.
For more information, contact the Health Department at 660-7300 or visit the Health Department page at www.sedgwickcounty.org.