News Release

Health Department of Northwest Michigan
serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties
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At least 10 cases of chickenpox reported in Antrim County outbreak so far; more expected
Parents urged to check children's immunization records and schedule appointments for shots if needed

(November 9, 2011) At least 10 cases of chickenpox in an Antrim County school building have prompted public health officials to remind parents to check their children's immunization records. Children need 2 doses of varicella vaccine to protect against the illness and prevent its spread.

To help respond to the outbreak, the Health Department of Northwest Michigan is offering a Community Immunization Clinic on Thursday, November 10 at 3PM to 5 PM at the Mancelona Family Resource Center. Varicella (chickenpox), seasonal flu, and many other immunizations will be available for both adults and children. Medicaid and many other health insurance policies are accepted as payment. No one 18 or under is turned away for inability to pay for vaccines required by Michigan Immunization Rules, including the varicella vaccine.

"Chickenpox is less common than it once was, thanks to the varicella vaccine," said Joshua Meyerson, MD, Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. "It's not usually a serious illness, but it can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia and meningitis. Even a relatively mild case of chickenpox can cause an infected child to lose a week or more of school."

The Health Department is working closely with the school to control the outbreak. School officials are in frequent contact with public health nurses to track new cases.

Everyone is urged to get fully immunized, especially individuals who have been exposed to chickenpox. "It may not be too late for some people who are at risk of contracting chickenpox," Meyerson said. "Vaccination within 3 to 5 days of exposure is effective at preventing the illness--and it helps stop the spread of the disease."

Meyerson is not only concerned about students contracting chicken pox. "There are individuals in every community who are not able to get vaccines. The greater the number of immunized people around these vulnerable children and adults, the more they are protected from the illness," he said.

For example, chickenpox poses risks to the fetus if a mother contracts it during pregnancy, but pregnant women cannot get vaccinated against the disease. Others who are at risk of contracting chickenpox because they cannot receive the varicella vaccine are children or adults who have a weakened immune system from an illness or medication and children or adults who are allergic to vaccine components.

"That's why students who are under-immunized will be excluded from school for up to 21 days until there are no new cases. We take outbreaks of communicable diseases very seriously."

The Health Department is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. To schedule immunizations, call your health care provider or the Health Department, at 800-432-4121.