Four Sanger middle-school students have chickenpox – and they had been vaccinated

Four students at Washington Academic Middle School are home with chickenpox – and each had previously had vaccinations to prevent getting the disease.

Parents at the Sanger Unified school were notified by telephone Monday night after one student was diagnosed with the highly contagious disease.

That student had attended classes last week, and on Tuesday the district learned that three other students at the middle school had chickenpox, said Kimberly Salomonson, director of pupil services. The three newly-diagnosed students all live in the same house, she said.

Chickenpox has been on the decline since a varicella vaccine became available in 1995, but cases still occur. Just this week, it was reported that nearly 100 unvaccinated students at an elementary school in Agoura Hills in Southern California were told to stay home because of an outbreak at the school.

All four of the Sanger middle-school students were fully immunized against chickenpox, Salomonson said. Most children are now immunized with at least one dose of varicella vaccine, which is 80 to 85 percent effective in preventing chickenpox. Two doses of the vaccine are now recommended. Children should receive the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old.. Each of the Sanger students had had the two doses of vaccine, Salomonson said. It’s unusual that someone fully immunized would come down with the disease, but not unheard of, she said. “There is no vaccination that is 100 percent.”

School vaccines have been controversial in California, and this school year a law took effect ending the personal belief exemptions for vaccinations. Fresno County historically has had one of the highest vaccination rates against childhood diseases in California. In 2016-17, 97.1 percent of kindergartners were up-to-date on vaccinations.

Chickenpox is highly contagious. It spreads by direct contact or through airborne droplets. It also can be spread indirectly from clothes that have been soiled by fluid from blisters.

Salomonson said Sanger Unified custodians have cleaned the middle school’s classrooms, disinfecting shared surfaces.

The early symptoms of chickenpox include a sudden, slight fever, body weakness and loss of appetite. Within a day, an itchy rash begins and then flat red spots appear, followed by raised spots, small blisters and crusting blisters.

Sanger Unified said students with chickenpox cannot return to school until all the scabs are dry or they have a doctor’s note saying they no longer are contagious.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter