-Public Health Ministry using new vaccine to help control spread
From among a population of about 300 children, a total of 160, who are accommodated at the Paramakatoi Secondary School Dormitory, have been infected with chickenpox. This development has resulted in access to the
dormitory being restricted and classes being suspended as part of efforts to quarantine the infected. The infected students have reportedly been separated from the others.
At a press conference yesterday, Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton, disclosed that the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education were about one week ago informed of the outbreak of the disease.
According to Minister Norton, the decision to close the school’s dormitory is to ensure that “those who are in the dorm remain in the dorm and those who are out will not have to make contact with those who are infected…this includes teachers, so that is why classes have been suspended.”
But the outbreak is under control, Minister Norton asserted. He disclosed yesterday that already medical and environmental teams are working to prevent the spread of the virus and to treat all infected. “We have made available all of the necessary pharmaceuticals that would be required in that area,” said Minister Norton, as he disclosed that efforts are being made to dispatch vaccines to the area as well.
According to Dr. Oneka Scott, Director of Adolescent Health attached to the Maternal and Child Health Unit, who shared the press conference yesterday, the vaccine that will be utilised to ensure that the outbreak is contained is the Varicella vaccine. However this vaccine is currently not part of the Ministry’s regular immunisation schedule. The vaccine, Dr. Scott said, was introduced in March of last year for vulnerable populations including those in dormitories, schools, orphanages as well as port health and sanitation workers.
Based on the disclosures yesterday, the students accommodated in the dormitory at Paramakatoi were not previously administered the vaccine, despite their recognised vulnerability. The vaccine is a preventative measure, and can therefore only be used on individuals who are not currently infected.
Dr. Scott disclosed yesterday, “we are going to be administering to all those who have not been previously infected by chickenpox (and) those who are not currently infected by chickenpox.”
Describing the vaccine as relatively safe and effective, Dr. Scott underscored yesterday that “it is really the best source of prevention, apart from all of the preventative measures that are expected to be taken.”
Chickenpox is caused by the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV), which spreads mainly through tiny droplets from infected people that get into the air after they breathe, talk, cough or sneeze. Using the utensils of an infected person can also be a means of transmission, Dr. Scott informed yesterday.
The resulting disease is manifested by the development of blister-like rash or boils that first appear on the face and can spread throughout the body even inside the mouth, eyelids and/or genital area. The rash or boils are usually itchy and fluid-filled and are complemented by fever, tiredness, loss of appetite and headache.
The disease, according to Dr. Scott, has an incubation period of between 10 and 21 days. However, she asserted that the disease could spread from an infected person to another one or two days before symptoms are manifested. The final stage of the disease is characterised by the formation of scabs (flakes) on the skin. Essentially an infected person is contagious about two days before the rash appears and then continues being so for about four or five days.
While there are known complications linked to the disease, it has been noted that these are not common in infected persons who are healthy. Some of the complications can include skin infection, dehydration, pneumonia and swelling of the brain.
Minister Norton noted that while the outbreak is a worrying development, the disease is usually not a lethal one. “It is always worrying whenever our children are sick…we worry whenever any member of our society is affected…it is worrying in spite of the fact that we have it under control,” said the Minister as he disclosed that the response will include targeting family members and others within the community who might have come in contact with those infected.
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