WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

Alaska reports cluster of chickenpox cases

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services recently reported a cluster of chickenpox cases in the Kenai/Soldotna area with the potential for wider community exposure.

Health officials identified three related cases of chickenpox, also known as varicella, in unvaccinated young adults since mid-February. The cases could put people who have not previously had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine at risk for infection.

"Alaskans who are not currently immune to chickenpox should get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect their health and the health of their community," Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist, said.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that spreads through the air by coughing or sneezing or through direct contact. In otherwise healthy children, chickenpox typically causes an uncomfortable rash. The disease can occasionally result in serious consequences including encephalitis, pneumonia and death. People who acquire chickenpox are also at risk for developing shingles later in life.

Certain individuals are at increased risk for developing severe chickenpox symptoms, including pregnant women, adults, adolescents, infants and people with weak immune systems.

Individuals with chickenpox should stay away from schools and other public gathering places until their blisters have formed scabs. Those infected should call their healthcare providers to seek advice before going to a clinic or emergency room.