A number of chickenpox cases have been reported at local high schools.
A number of chickenpox cases have been reported at local high schools. AnaDiana

Chickenpox reported at Northern Rivers high schools

A NUMBER of chickenpox cases have been reported at high schools on the Northern Rivers over the last week.

Casino High School took to Facebook on October 27 to notify the public there had been several cases of students with chicken pox reported at the school.

Two days later, Ballina Coast High School notified the public by Facebook, confirming they had one case of the highly contagious viral illness.

Ballina Coast High Principal Janeen Silcock said to her knowledge there hadn't been a case reported at the high school before.

"We made a public notice to make sure families knew," Ms Silcock said.

"We have followed the Department of Education protocols.

"That student is not at school and will not be returning until the symptoms are gone."

She said Ballina Coast High School shares a site with Southern Cross Public School's 450 primary students.

Casino High School have been contacted but were unable to comment before our deadline.

A NSW Local Health District Spokeswoman said chickenpox was not currently noti​fiable in NSW and they couldn't provide data on whether the outbreaks were high or unusual.

However, a NSW Health Spokeswoman said the incidence is monitored through the number of patients attending emergency departments and the number of patients who are hospitalised with chickenpox or shingles," she said.

She said Varicellavaccine protects against chickenpox, even if given up to five days after exposure.

"Short-term immunisation with varicella-zoster immunoglobulin (VZIG) - which is made from antibodies in donated blood - can prevent illness in people at high risk of complications," The NSW Health spokeswoman said.

"This needs to be given within 96 hours of exposure to the virus to be effective. People at high risk of complications following exposure include pregnant women who have not had chickenpox and who have not been immunised, newborn babies, and some immunosuppressed patients." 

What is Chickenpox?

  • Chickenpox (varicella) is a viral illness caused by the herpes zoster virus (also known as the Varicella-Zoster virus)
  • In children it usually causes a relatively mild illness
  • Chickenpox in adults and immunosuppressed people can be severe
  • Infection in pregnancy can cause foetal malformations, skin scarring, and other problems in the baby
  • Before routine vaccination began in November 2005, chickenpox was a very common illness. The incidence of chickenpox appears to have decreased as more people receive the vaccine.

What are the symptoms

  • Chickenpox begins with a sudden onset of slight fever, runny nose, feeling generally unwell and a skin rash
  • The rash usually begins as small lumps that turn into blisters and then scabs
  • The rash appears over three to four days. At any one time, the lesions of the rash vary in stages of development
  • Symptoms usually occur two weeks after exposure to the virus
  • Most people recover without complications, but sometimes the infection can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia and inflammation of the brain. Rarely, the infection can be fatal
  • Persons who are previously vaccinated can still get chickenpox. If chickenpox occurs in a vaccinated person it is usually mild and less contagious than in an unvaccinated person.

How is it spread?

  • Early in the illness, the virus is spread by coughing
  • Later in the illness, the virus is spread by direct contact with the fluid in the blisters
  • The infection is highly contagious to people who have never had chickenpox or who have not been vaccinated
  • People are infectious from one or two days before the rash appears (that is, during the runny nose phase) and up to five days after (when the blisters have formed crusts or scabs)
  • Chickenpox infection triggers an immune response and people rarely get chickenpox twice.

Who is at risk?

  • Anyone who has not had chickenpox or been vaccinated in the past can get chickenpox
  • People with a past history of chickenpox are likely to be immune to the virus. Even adults with no history of chickenpox have a chance of being immune (because of past infection that was mild). Doctors sometimes perform a blood test to see if these people need a vaccination.

How is it prevented?

  • A free varicella containing vaccine (MMRV) is now recommended for all children at 18 months of age
  • People with chickenpox should avoid others (and not attend childcare or school) until at least five days after onset of the rash and all the blisters have dried
  • People with chickenpox should cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, dispose of soiled tissues, wash their hands well and not share eating utensils, food or drinking cups
  • Pregnant women should avoid anyone with chickenpox or shingles and should see their doctor if they have been around someone with these illnesses
  • Children with an immune deficiency (for example, leukaemia) or who are receiving chemotherapy should avoid anyone with chickenpox or shingles as the infection can be especially severe.

For any further information please contact the local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 or visit www.health.nsw.gov.au