Date: Fri 2 Dec 2016
Source: Stabroek News [edited]
There has been a total of 104 confirmed cases of chickenpox at the Paramakatoi Secondary School's Dormitory in Region 8 [Potaro-Siparuni Region, Guyana], a health team dispatched to the area has reported.
The Ministry of Public Health announced an outbreak in the area last week and Public Health Minister Dr George Norton had said there were 160 reported cases of persons having been infected over a 1-week period.
In light of the outbreak, a team from the ministry, including Junior Minister Karen Cummings, was expected to travel to the area to gather more information, while medical and environmental teams were working to prevent the spread of the virus and treat all infected children.
Stabroek News has since been informed that the team has been able to confirm 104 of the previously stated 160 cases.
This newspaper was told that the reason for the remaining 56 cases not being confirmed was as a result of the students not having visited the health centre in the area as the others would have done.
Stabroek News was also told that a total of 900 varicella vaccines were given to the community for preventative treatment against the spread of the virus among the population in Paramakatoi.
Additionally, the environmental team has since advised that a section of the dorm be utilized as a quarantine area for affected students.
It was also noted that health officials in the area have been instructed to be on alert for any new cases that may occur.
Varicella, commonly known as chickenpox, is a disease that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Patients develop a blister-like rash or boil, which 1st appears on the face and trunk, and then spreads throughout the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids and in the genital area.
The virus is airborne and can be spread mainly through tiny droplets from infected persons when they breathe, talk, cough or sneeze. Symptoms include the presence of a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs, mild to moderate fever, tiredness, loss of appetite and headaches.
Though not common, chickenpox can also lead to serious issues, such as skin infections, dehydration, pneumonia and swelling of the brain.
According to a Public Health Ministry statement, chickenpox has an incubation period of between 10 and 21 days, meaning the rash will appear from 10 to 21 days after the virus has infected the patient. However, it said an infected person is contagious about 2 days before the rash appears, and then continues being contagious for another 4 to 5 days until all the blisters have formed scabs.
Treatment of the virus, the ministry noted, includes the use of non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, to relieve fever from chickenpox, calamine lotion, which may help prevent itching and irritation of the skin, as well as the administering of antiviral medications in specific cases.
However, the chickenpox vaccine is considered the best way to prevent the contraction of chickenpox. Children, adolescents, and adults, it is recommended, should get 2 doses of the vaccine, which is considered very safe and effective at preventing the disease.
Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild -- with fewer red spots or boils and mild or no fever. The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe disease.
In cases where vaccination is not possible, the ministry said preventative measures must be taken from coming into contact with droplets of saliva and the blisters of an infected person.
This includes hand washing, protection when sneezing and coughing, and not sharing utensils.
[In April 2016, the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) began a cross country campaign in Guyana and elsewhere targeting defaulters and hard to reach populations as part of World Vaccine week, with a special focus on remote regions in the hinterland and the engagement of schools. This is one of the most successful public health programmes in Guyana, with vaccination coverage of over 90 percent of all antigens given to the under-5 population, according to the Ministry of Public Health, Guyana. But while Guyana was awarded 3rd place out of 75 countries for effective vaccine management in 2014, it has not been without its challenges, particularly due to Guyana's unique terrain.
The country has a very unique terrain which contributes greatly to the challenges of the vaccination programme, from the many rivers to the mountains. In addition, the vaccines require maintenance of a cold chain.
The EPI programme currently administers vaccines for 17 antigens: whooping cough, measles, poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, yellow fever, diphtheria, tetanus, mumps, rubella, haemophilus influenza type B, pneumococcal, meningococcal, human papilloma virus, varicella, rotavirus and pertussis. - excerpted from <http://www.stabroeknews.com/2016/news/stories/04/23/countrywide-campaign-planned-vaccine-week/
More than 100 cases in a 1-week period is concerning. One hopes the 900 doses of vaccine will stop transmission. Two doses of the vaccine are about 90 percent effective at preventing chickenpox. As stated in the report, when vaccinated individuals get chickenpox in spite of having been vaccinated, the disease is usually milder with fewer blisters and little or no fever.