AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday there is a chickenpox outbreak in one Penobscot County school, according to John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
“There is indeed a chickenpox outbreak in Penobscot County,” Martins said, noting it involved one school. “The way an outbreak of chickenpox is defined is if there are three or more cases in one school.”
Martins declined to name the school affected or the total number of children infected by the virus that often causes a blister-like rash.
“What happens is the children who have the chickenpox are [suspended] from school until the chickenpox sores are crusted over,” Martins said. “All the students who are unimmunized … are [suspended] for 16 days after their latest exposure. It doesn’t impact people who have been vaccinated or those with documentation they have had chickenpox in the past.”
Under state law, in the absence of disease history or an exemption, Maine students must be vaccinated against chickenpox, as well as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella.
Students who cannot show a disease history or vaccination must be barred from school for 16 days.
Exemptions include a physician’s written statement that immunization against the diseases may be medically inadvisable or a parent’s written statement opposing immunization because of religious beliefs or philosophical concerns.
The disease is caused by a virus and characterized by slight fever and the eruption of blisters on the skin. Chickenpox is classified as a disease of childhood, but it can occur in adults. It’s formal name is Varicella.
The infectious disease is spread by coughing and sneezing and was common among American children until a vaccine was developed in 1995. Before the vaccine was developed, four million people would get chickenpox each year in the United States, with around 10,600 hospitalized and 100 to 150 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.