Chickenpox warning for island

Wednesday January 24, 2018 Written by Published in Health
Chickenpox causes an itchy rash of blisters and a fever, a health ministry spokesman says. 18012313 Chickenpox causes an itchy rash of blisters and a fever, a health ministry spokesman says. 18012313

An outbreak of chickenpox on Rarotonga could pose a threat to schools as the new academic year gets underway.


The Ministry of Health has issued a warning that the highly contagious virus is circulating on the island and urged parents to be on the alert for symptoms.

A hospital spokesman said that two cases had been recently confirmed and that it was believed the illness had come from overseas.

He said that although chickenpox was more common, and far less serious, than illnesses such as measles, it could still present a problem.

His concerns were echoed by the principal of a primary school on Rarotonga, who said teachers would be made aware of the situation before the start of the new year and would be on the lookout for children showing symptoms of the illness.

Parents on the island also expressed concern about the possibility of a widespread outbreak, although one told CINews: “I think every kid ends up with chickenpox sooner or later so there’s not much they can do.”

In a statement the health ministry said: “Chickenpox is a highly contagious, common childhood disease that causes an itchy rash of blisters and a fever.

“The rash occurs about 10 to 12 days after coming into contact with someone who had the disease. It usually starts with one spot, but more spots quickly appear, with fever, headache, runny nose, a cough and feeling tired.

“Chickenpox is most common in children between the ages of two and 10. If one child in your household gets it, it is almost certain that any others who have never had chickenpox will get it next. 

“The virus spreads mainly by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters, and possibly through tiny droplets from infected people that get into the air after they breathe or talk.

“People with chickenpox should avoid others, not attend childcare, school or public places, and should not swim in public swimming areas, including swimming pools. Children with chickenpox should be kept at home for seven days or until all the blisters are dried and covered by scabs.”

People suffering from the illness should cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and should not share food or utensils like cups.

The spots can be itchy and can leave scars.

“To prevent scarring from the spots, dress your child in lightweight clothing, clip your child’s fingernails, try putting mittens on the hands of very young children,” said the ministry.

Although it is not usually a serious illness, children can be given paracetamol, but not aspirin, for fever and pain. Calamine lotion, available from pharmacies, can be used to calm the itching.

The health department added that parents should seek medical attention if the child has “a very high fever or is very ill, particularly if they become very drowsy, or are breathing fast or vomiting a lot”.

It is also thought that there have been cases of shingles, the adult version of chickenpox that affects those who have had the illness in the past, on Rarotonga recently.

However, that condition is not caused by exposure to people with chickenpox.

            - JH/Release

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