Chickenpox Outbreak Scares Campus

An e-mail sent by Dr. Alice Wong, director of the Student Health Center, noted that cases of chickenpox amongst undergraduate students have recently been reported at UC Irvine.
Pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems, can have serious complications if exposed to the disease. Chickenpox is spread easily from person to person by contact with secretions from the mouth or nose or the fluid from rashes caused by chickenpox. Any person who develops chickenpox should stay at home until the rash has completely crusted over, which is usually about five days from the time the rash started.
People who have had chickenpox and children who have been vaccinated occasionally still get the chickenpox. However, those previously exposed to it usually have a milder illness without a fever and with fewer skin lesions. The rash may look like bug bites and the illness usually does not last as long. Even those with mild chickenpox can spread it to others.
The fetus of a pregnant woman is endangered by a first exposure to the disease, especially within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. A pregnant woman is also more at risk for additional health complications. This danger was one that Michelle Chihara, a literary journalism professor who is pregnant, could not risk.
“When one of my students dropped out of my class because of chickenpox, I told my doctor about it. My doctor spoke with me about the risks and told me that people are most contagious in the two weeks before they start showing symptoms. Therefore, I was interacting with my student while she was most contagious,” Chihara said.
Chihara is conducting class via e-mail and holding office hours via telephone. Chihara does plan to come back and teach in winter quarter of 2008.
“I didn’t show any signs of having caught the disease, but my doctor recommended that I avoid the campus as much as possible until the last case had cleared,” Chihara said.
Some students, like third-year public health sciences major and member of the Red Cross at UCI Shenaz Makati, said that she “thought it was interesting to see that people were getting [the chickenpox]. … I never would have thought it would be that serious that they had to send an e-mail over it. I had a friend that was pregnant and I got scared for her. I don’t think she was worried before, but now she is.”
Symptoms of the chickenpox include a blister-like rash on the skin, usually on the face, scalp or body. The illness typically lasts about five to 10 days. High fever, severe itching, dehydration or headache may also occur as well as complications such as infection of the blisters with bacteria, flare-ups of asthma or pneumonia.
Second-year film and media studies major and member of The Advice Table Victor Chen expressed his concern.
“My friend got shingles recently. I don’t know. My advice would just be to be clean and wash your hands [to avoid infection],” Chen said.
Other students did not seem to mind the recent outbreak, such as fifth-year public health sciences major Mohammad Abdelfattah, who said, “I do not really care, because I don’t see myself acquiring it. And I was vaccinated when I was little.”
Two doses of chickenpox vaccine are now recommended for children who are 12 months of age as well as adults who have not had chickenpox or been previously vaccinated.
Contact your healthcare provider to discuss whether or not you should be vaccinated or call the Orange County Public Health Referral Line at 1-800-564-8448 to find out where you can get vaccinated.