Schools throughout Cook Islands are advising families how to avoid the chickenpox that has now been reported in two Rarotonga schools.
Unlike New Zealand, the Cook Islands does not immunise against chickenpox.
Earlier this week, Apii Takitumu reported five cases, and then yesterday, Apii Avarua reported another three.
Rarotonga Medical Centre’s Dr Nini Wynn said the vaccine Varilrix was routinely used elsewhere to protect children and adults against chickenpox, but was not provided here.
If children do contract the illness, she said, the treatment includes rest, soothing creams, bathing with pinetarsol, and paracetamol for the pain.
Apii Avarua school principal Engia Baxter confirmed they had three cases of chickenpox. The children were recovered and back in school.
Blackrock preschool Api’i Potiki principal Stephanie Forbes said they had no cases of chickenpox but, nonetheless, they would be issuing an alert to parents to be vigilant. “We will advise the parents to be on the alert for unexplained spots and if they are found, to keep their children at home and seek medical advice if they are concerned,” she said.
Papaaroa Adventist and Saint Joseph’s School have not had any cases of chicken pox; they too are advising parents to be alert.
Araura Primary in Aitutaki said any child with symptoms would be taken immediately to the hospital.
Dr Wynn said chickenpox is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus and one can get chickenpox at any age, but it’s most common under 10 years.
It spreads very easily from person to person, usually spread through the air (coughing and sneezing). You can also catch it by touching something (like a door handle) that has the virus on it.
Symptoms start with cold-like symptoms followed by a high temperature and itchy skin. Flat or slightly raised red spots occur a day or two after the first symptoms. The spots are mostly on the head and chest to start with but they may spread to the arms and legs.
The spots may fill with fluid, forming small blisters. The blisters dry out and form scabs after about seven days.
Wynn urged parents to seek medical advice if their children were very unwell.
She added that most cases of chickenpox were mild, but it could cause more serious illness in adults, during pregnancy and in people with an impaired immune system.