Health officials in Knox County, OH has confirmed an outbreak of chickenpox among an Amish community in the south-eastern portion of the county. This comes a the heels of measles and mumps outbreaks in Central Ohio in the past year.
Health officials note that this chickenpox outbreak is comparable to the other outbreaks, 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.
Chickenpox is a common, usually benign childhood disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a member of the herpes family. This virus causes two distinct diseases; varicella (chickenpox) is the primaryinfection, and later when VSV reactivates,herpes zoster (shingles).
Chickenpox is highly contagious and is spread by coughing and sneezing, by direct contact and by aerosolization of the virus from skin lesions. You can also get it by contact with the vesicle secretions from shingles.
The disease is characterized by fever and a red, itchy skin rash of that usually starts on the abdomen, back or face and then spreads to nearly all parts of the body. The rash begins as small red bumps that appear as pimples or insect bites. They then develop into thin-walled blisters that are filled with clear fluid which collapse on puncture. The blisters then breaks, crusts over, and leaves dry brown scabs.
The chickenpox lesions may be present in several stages of maturity and are more abundant on covered skin rather than exposed. Lesions may also be found in the mouth, upper respiratory tract and genitals.
Chickenpox is contagious from 1-2 days before the rash forms and continues until all the lesions are crusted over (usually about 5 days).
This disease is more serious in adults than in children. Complications of chickenpox are rare, but includepneumonia, encephalitis and secondary bacterial infections.
Infection with this virus usually gives lifelong immunity, although second attacks have been documented in immunocompromised people. The viral infection remains latent, and disease may recur years later as shingles.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chickenpox vaccine is the best protection against chickenpox. The vaccine is made from weakened varicella virus that produces an immune response in your body that protects you against chickenpox. The chickenpox vaccine was licensed for use in the United States in 1995.
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.