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Chickenpox outbreak on San Juan Island; health officials urge precaution

Local health officials are urging the community to help prevent the spread of chickenpox on San Juan Island, after cases of the disease were confirmed at three San Juan Island preschools.

Health officials believe several children at Friday Harbor Elementary School also may have been exposed.

The effects of the disease are most often limited to a temporary, itchy rash. In rare instances, however, it can become severe and even life-threatening.

Chickenpox has also been linked to birth defects in the children of about 2 percent of the women who are infected during pregnancy.

Health officials urge parents with children who show symptoms — a rash, itching, fever and fatigue — to take the child to their health care provider to confirm the illness. They also emphasize the importance of notifying the provider in advance that they will be bringing in a potentially contagious person so precautions can be taken.

Chickenpox typically takes 10 to 21 days to incubate, and individuals who contract the disease are contagious beginning two days before telltale spots emerge, until the last of the spots have crusted over — so health officials urge parents to keep children who have been exposed to chickenpox home beginning 10 days after the exposure until the 21st day has passed without an outbreak.

Children with chickenpox should stay at home until the last set of spots crust over.

Vaccine provides effective protection against the disease, and the health department reports there is an adequate supply on hand in San Juan County. Children need two doses of vaccine to be fully protected.

After a child is exposed, if they get their first or second dose of vaccine within 3 to 5 days, they can reduce or eliminate their chances of getting the illness.

At risk groups, including parents of unvaccinated children, people with suppressed immune systems, and pregnant women should consult their health care providers or the San Juan County Health Department about receiving the vaccine.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that prior to the widespread vaccination of children; chickenpox caused 50 to 60 deaths and more than 10,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States.

Information about the disease is available the county Health and Community Services Department, at 378-4474 or www.co.san-juan.wa.us., or from a local healthcare provider.

 

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