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Chickenpox cases hit school

A HILLS primary school affected by nearly 40 cases of whooping cough last term has now been hit with cases of highly contagious chickenpox.

The Australian Medical Association of WA said immunisation rates of 75 per cent in Darlington were well below the national average and those suburbs lagging were where outbreaks tended to occur.

Telethon Kids Institute Vaccine and Infectious Diseases researcher Tom Snelling said while complete control of chickenpox and whooping cough was a big challenge, it was unusual for a school to have two outbreaks of a vaccine-preventable disease.

“This is certainly very bad luck if nothing else,” he said.

“But if the vaccination rate is as low as 75 per cent, then that is much lower than most schools and it is not surprising there would be outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

“This is too low to stop most infections from spreading around a community with close contact, like a school.

“This is especially true for more infectious diseases like measles, chickenpox and whooping cough.”

Dr Snelling said vaccines were not perfect and outbreaks could occur even in highly vaccinated schools.

“Compared to the highly protective measles vaccine, the chickenpox and whooping cough vaccines are not as effective and require very high rates of vaccine coverage to stop these infections from circulating,” he said.

“We vaccinate against chickenpox to try to stop it from spreading to our most vulnerable, like those with cancer and pregnant women, who are highly susceptible to serious infection but who can’t be vaccinated themselves.

“There will always be occasional children who can’t be vaccinated or whose parents refuse vaccination.

“If everyone else is vaccinated, that acts like a cocoon for these people and helps to protect them from being exposed to the chickenpox virus.”

Dr Snelling said there was a perception by some that chickenpox was a trivial infection.

“Most parents will remember having chickenpox themselves,” he said.

“The truth is that most kids get over chickenpox with no problems apart for some scarring caused by the pox marks.

“Unfortunately a few kids can get very serious and even life-threatening secondary infections of the skin which is why we vaccinate.”

A North Metropolitan Health Service spokesman said chickenpox cases usually increased during winter and early spring.

“It is usually a self-limiting disease with symptoms including a fever, fatigue and a generalised rash characterised by small blisters that rupture to form crusts,” he said.

“An affected person is infectious from two days before the rash appears and until the blisters have formed crusts.”

The current varicella immunisation rate for the North Metro region was about 92 per cent.

The Health Department said more than 90 per cent of close contacts, will contract the virus if they have not previously been infected with chickenpox or have not been immunised against chickenpox.

By Sarah Brookes

About Sarah Brookes

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