The Santa Barbara Public Health Department is reporting an outbreak of the varicella, or chickenpox, virus. Public Health has five confirmed cases of chickenpox and one case of shingles affiliated with a school in the county. Public Health officials have not released the name of the school. The majority of cases arose in children who were unvaccinated.
Chickenpox and shingles both come from the highly contagious varicella-zoster virus, which spreads in the air through coughing or sneezing or via contact with virus particles. The disease passes from an infected person to those who have not been infected before or to those who have not received an anti-chickenpox vaccine.
Chickenpox is characterized by a rash that develops into itchy, fluid-filled blisters on the face and chest, and eventually spreads to other areas of the body. Within a week, the blisters turn into scabs. The disease may also induce a fever and may develop into complications requiring hospitalization. Occasionally, these complications can be fatal.
Like the recent outbreaks of whooping cough and measles in Santa Barbara County, chickenpox is a resurgent disease preventable with vaccination. Though the vaccinated may still become infected, symptoms are generally milder and come without fever. Prior to the advent of the chickenpox vaccine, the virus caused around 4 million cases per year, with thousands of serious complications. Public Health reports the vaccine now prevents an average of 3.5 million cases of varicella a year, including 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths prevented annually.