Cause for concern
A recent bump in the number of chicken pox and whooping cough cases in Jackson County has public health officials concerned for those most at risk of developing complications — infants, pregnant women, the sick, elderly and anyone not fully vaccinated.
Since Thanksgiving, Jackson County Public Health Division has been notified of about four confirmed cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, and about 15 cases of chicken pox. Both highly contagious diseases are more prevalent at schools with low immunization rates, the county reported, though it declined to give specifics.
Many people with either chicken pox or pertussis may experience temporary symptoms and not realize how the same disease can severely impact those around them, said Jim Shames, the county’s public health director.
Pertussis, for example, is a respiratory disease characterized by cold-like symptoms followed by uncontrollable, sometimes violent coughing that can last for weeks. However, in an infant, this disease could potentially lead to respiratory failure or even death, Shames said.
Similarly, chicken pox may induce a fever and itchy, blister-like rash in most people but could lead to complications, such as pneumonia, in a pregnant woman who has not been immunized and serious birth defects or life-threatening infections, depending on the term, in her unborn child.
People with chicken pox are generally contagious for a few days before the pox appear and until they have crusted over, Shames said.
People with pertussis may be contagious for three weeks or more, said Marlene Sadler, one of the county’s communicable-disease nurses.
Tiffanie Lambert, Eagle Point's director of special services, said the district was notified of three cases of pertussis Friday — two at Shady Cove School and one at Eagle Point High School.
About 92 percent of Shady Cove’s students have been vaccinated, compared with 97.7 percent of students districtwide.
In Ashland, where only about 70 percent of students were vaccinated as of 2013, there have been two recent cases of pertussis — both at Ashland Middle School — and nearly 20 cases of chicken pox, including about 15 cases at Willow Wind Community Learning, said Samuel Bogdanove, the district’s director of student services.
“Generally, we might get one or two cases of chicken pox here or there throughout the years, so this kind of spike definitely has our attention,” Bogdanove said. “Usually, we send a notice home with students who haven’t been vaccinated or all the kids, depending on the circumstances.”
Although the Medford School District was not aware of any cases of chicken pox, it may have one case of pertussis but that hasn't been confirmed, said Natalie Hurd, the district’s communications specialist. In the event of an outbreak, the district does notify the 5 percent of students with exemptions and recommend that they stay home from school, she said.
A varicella vaccine is recommended to ward off chicken pox and is a series of two shots administered at least 28 days apart.
The DTaP vaccine protects children ages 7 and younger from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The Tdap booster is recommended for older children and adults.
The Jackson County Health Department, 1005 E. Main St., Building A, offers vaccines from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Shots cost $21.90 for children without health insurance, and about $69.43 (Tdap) to $130 (varicella vaccine) for adults without insurance. No appointment is necessary. Call 541-774-8209 for more information.
“We’re going into the holiday season, and nobody wants to get somebody else sick,” said Sadler. “If you’re out in the community, going to church, bazaars, the mall, the movie theater or anywhere else and you have chicken pox, you could be severely impacting someone’s life.”
Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at email@example.com.