Two cases of chickenpox at Merrill Middle School

Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 21:40:53-05

Unvaccinated children are being told to stay home amid chickenpox outbreak at Merrill Middle School.

Denver Public Health says two students at the school were diagnosed with the contagious illness.

Based on recommendations from health officials, the school district is now taking steps to prevent other kids from being exposed.

"Because it's so transmissible and because it's occasionally serious, we take any outbreak of Varicella [chickenpox] seriously," said Dr. Bill Burman Director of Denver Public Health.

In an alert sent out to parents, Denver Public Schools (DPS) said it is not allowing unvaccinated kids to attend the school for three weeks, until Feb. 23.

"To protect those kids from possible exposure to chickenpox, Denver Public Health told us that those kids should not be in the building," said Will Jones spokesperson with DPS.

"The estimate is that if there's one case the risk to unvaccinated children can be 60 to 90 percent," said Dr. Burman.

Chickenpox is very contagious, and Dr. Burman said it can take up to 21 days to show symptoms.

Denver Public Health believes the second child was exposed to the disease at school. They're not sure how the first student was exposed.

DPS said Merrill Middle School has an 89% compliance rate when it comes to vaccines which means a total of 14 students were not allowed to attend school on Monday.

"Merrill Middle school is one of our schools that has a large immigrant population and because of that some of those parents aren't familiar with American traditions," said Jones.

Ronnie and Jennifer Prine chose not to vaccinate their daughter after their son, Eric, had an adverse reaction to the whopping cough vaccine. Eric passed away in May of 2014.

Their daughter doesn't attend Merrill, but they believe it's up to parents whether to send their unvaccinated kids to school.

"Some of what we do creates these prejudice against parents and kids that have not been vaccinated," said Jennifer Prine. "Vaccinations does not totally mean that you're immune."

Parents who have children who attend Merrill had different opinions.

"If you can prevent someone from going through something quite painful - I don't know why you wouldn't vaccinate," said Kerri Gray who has a 7th grader who attends the school.

Dr. Burman said it is not too late to get the vaccine and it will start protecting children fairly quickly. Those students will also be allowed back at Merrill as soon as they've been vaccinated.

"I think the most important thing is to get unvaccinated children in to be vaccinated," he said. They can come into their regular doctor they can come to the immunization clinic here at the health department."

DPS sent out this alert to parents on Friday:


Chickenpox Alert

Important Notice to Parents

February 5, 2016

A Denver Public Health doctor has diagnosed a student at Merrill Middle School with chickenpox, also known as varicella. Last week, Merrill, C3 and Cory had concerns over the disease at Merrill. Fortunately, doctors determined that none of the students or educators at either of the schools had been exposed at that time. Today, that is not the case. One student at Merrill has chickenpox. Per Denver Public Health requirements, students at Merrill who do not have documentation that they have been vaccinated for the disease will be excluded from school from Monday, Feb. 8th through Tuesday, Feb. 23rd.

Chickenpox causes a skin rash of itchy, blister?like lesions all over the body. Often there is a fever before the rash. The illness lasts 5 to 10 days. Chickenpox is usually not serious; however, it may cause severe symptoms in some high?risk individuals such as infants, pregnant women who are not immune to chickenpox, persons who have weakened immune systems because of illness or medications, and persons with chronic skin or lung disorders.

Chickenpox is very contagious. It spreads easily from person to person through the air by coughing and sneezing or by direct contact with the fluid from a chickenpox lesion. It usually takes 14 to 16 days to develop chickenpox symptoms after being exposed to someone with chickenpox, but symptoms may appear 10 to 21 days after exposure.

Two doses of chickenpox vaccine (also known as varicella vaccine) are recommended for children 12 months of age or older who have not had chickenpox. The first dose is usually given at 12?15 months of age and the second dose given at 4 to 6 years of age. Varicella vaccination (or an exemption to vaccination) is required for children of certain ages or grade levels to attend school or childcare in Colorado.

Some persons who have received varicella vaccine may still get chickenpox, but it is usually milder. The rash is less severe (sometimes only a few red bumps that look like insect bites) and there may be no fever in vaccinated individuals with chickenpox.

Varicella vaccine given within three days of exposure to chickenpox, and possibly up to five days after exposure, may prevent chickenpox or reduce the severity of disease. We recommend you contact your child's health care provider as soon as possible to obtain varicella vaccine for your child if they have not had chickenpox disease or have not received 2 doses of varicella vaccine. Please contact your local health department about vaccination if your child does not have a health care provider. Your child may be excluded from school in the event of an outbreak if he/she is not immune to chickenpox.

Adults having contact with students attending Merrill Middle School who are not immune to chickenpox should consider receiving varicella vaccine. If your child develops chickenpox, he/she should not attend childcare or school until the rash has crusted over. Please notify the school nurse that your child has chickenpox.