Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the chickenpox outbreak still keeping some Terre Haute teachers and students from school is rare in a time when a vaccination program against the virus is widespread. The Atlanta-based network of labs says it will now help track whether multiple strains of the disease are detected.
Since 1995, the CDC has recommended everyone who has not had chickenpox get a course of two shots to help develop immunity to it. Officials say in that time, hospitalizations for chickenpox have declined by 98 percent, which is what makes the Terre Haute case so odd.
“This large of an outbreak is kind of rare in these times during the second dose recommendation era,” says CDC immunologist Adriana Lopez, who says it is unclear whether Vigo County is just a rare case or whether the reporting of chickenpox cases is more effective than in the past.
“We haven’t heard of outbreaks of this size,” Lopez says. “But again, it also has to do with surveillance. Surveillance is improving for chickenpox. States are getting better at identifying cases. In the past, there could have been larger outbreaks that we just didn’t hear about.”
Lopez’s CDC colleague Mona Martin says the real danger in not being immunized might be getting shingles, a painful disease which manifests from a form of the chickenpox virus that has lain dormant in people for years after the itchy red bumps have gone away. Martin also says the CDC is watching to see if vaccinated people still develop the disease, though she considers that possibility somewhat unlikely.