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Chickenpox breaks out in Whistler

Day care waiting to see results next week when incubation period ends Whistler may face a chickenpox outbreak, with local daycares and one ski school location affected.

Day care waiting to see results next week when incubation period ends

Whistler may face a chickenpox outbreak, with local daycares and one ski school location affected.

"We did have a parent call us that their child had chickenpox," said Teresa Bouchard, general manager of Whistler Kids and the Ride Tribe programs for Whistler-Blackcomb.

"And as we would do in this type of circumstance our staff called the parents of all the children who might have been in contact with the infected child to let them know."

There was also a case of chickenpox at Whistler-Blackcomb’s infant care centre and again parents were contacted.

The ski school will not accept kids who are sick, said Bouchard. And if children become ill as the day progresses parents are contacted and arrangements are made to send the child home.

At the Whistler Children’s Centre about half a dozen kids have come down with the disease.

But, said director Julia Black, next week will be the real indicator of how hard the Nesters location and Spring Creek will be hit as that’s when the incubation period will be up for all those kids who came in contact with those infected with chicken pox.

"If we are going to have a big spread we will start seeing it this coming week," said Black.

The Whistler Children’s Centre has stringent rules when it comes to sick kids being at the facility. But the policy relies on parents acting responsibly and not bringing kids to the centre if they are ill.

"We expect that we work in partnership with the families and we do understand that families are the best judge of the children’s health and we entrust that they will not bring sick children to the centre," said Black.

"However if they do the staff do have a very clear health policy to follow and do have the right to send a child home immediately upon entry."

Children will also be sent home during the day if they become sick while at the facility.

The difficulty with chickenpox is that children can appear perfectly healthy but still be contagious with the disease.

According to Dr. Paul Martiquet, medical health officer for the region, Whistler does not experience higher numbers of kids with chickenpox than other areas such as Squamish, just because the town has a high number of visitors from afar.

"As far as I understand we have the same rates as other regions," he said.

It used to be that when chickenpox hit a community a parent or two would organize a "pox party" so all the local kids could get it young and get it over with.

That’s part of the reason why just about everyone born before 1957 is immune to the disease.

Today, however, that is not the case and many health officials urge parents to vaccinate kids against the varicella-zoster virus. Complications from the virus on average kills one child in 100,000 infected.

According to 1997 statistics 1,200 Canadian children end up in hospital with complications each year and it’s estimated that the annual cost of caring for those with chickenpox in Canada is about $122 million. About 350,000 Canadians are affected by the virus each year, most aged one to 15, and ultimately it infects 95 per cent of the population.

"It is basically recommended that parents immunize their children simply because even though it is a common childhood disorder there can be some serious complications that arise from it and it is not really worth putting your children at risk for those," said Martiquet.

"That is the main message."

(There is still a debate about immunization in general. For more information go to www.vran.org , the site of the vaccination risk awareness network.).

The Varivax vaccine is not covered by B.C. healthcare. It costs $90 and kids over 13 must get two shots. You can arrange it through you local doctor or phone the health unit at 604-932-3202.

Pregnant women should also stay away from anyone with chicken pox especially in their third trimester as it can cause congenital abnormalities in the fetus.

There is also a very small risk that kids infected with the chickenpox virus are at risk for childhood stroke.

The virus is usually caught through direct contact with the blisters of someone infected with chickenpox or shingles, said Martiquet.

Less often it is spread through the air by an infected person’s breath.

Once infected the virus spreads without symptoms for 14 to 21 days before the rash appears. A person may be contagious as soon as 10 days after being exposed to the virus even though no rash is visible.

In fact, the most contagious period is from two days before the rash develops until about five days after the blisters have appeared.

When the blisters have dried and crusted over the danger of spreading the disease passes.

A day or two before an itchy rash appears, flu-like symptoms start to develop. Those infected can feel fatigued, have a headache, chills, a fever of up to 102F, and muscle or joint aches.

The rash appears as raised red spots that turn to teardrop shaped blisters.

Blisters usually start on the scalp, then move to the trunk or torso and then the arms and legs. The blisters come in waves with new ones developing as old ones burst.

Wash your hands often to help prevent the spread of the disease.

The most common complication in children is Cellulitis, a skin infection from bacteria.

Like many virus varicella-zoster is never completely eradicated once it’s invaded the body. Anyone who’s had chickenpox carries dormant viruses in the roots of the nerve cells. These can sometimes reappear years later as shingles, a painful skin rash. This rash can transmit chickenpox.

The best way to treat chickenpox is to keep the body cool as sweat irritates the blisters, which are already itchy. Nails should be kept short as bacteria living under them can cause problems when kids scratch. Daily baths are great and wash with gentle soap and water to keep the risk of infection in check.

Acetaminophen can also be taken for the fever.

Parents could also consider vaccinating children in the early stages of the disease, said Martiquet, as the vaccine may reduce the intensity and length of the event.

Chickenpox is not the only virus currently causing problems in the corridor.

Last weekend Squamish’s acute-care hospital closed after a suspected outbreak of Norwalk virus. It has since re-opened.

But Hilltop House, a long-term care facility adjacent to the hospital, was still closed to visitors and others as of Jan. 6.

Two new cases of Norwalk have been found at the centre.

In the past month, more than half the 61 residents at Hilltop House have had Norwalk-type symptoms.

Norwalk virus, also known as the stomach flu, is a common illness that causes symptoms like nausea, chills, cramping and fever. It is fairly contagious and can be spread from person to person on unwashed hands and through food, water or ice handled by an infected person. Vomiting may also spread the virus through the air and it can survive on surfaces such as countertops or sinks for a long time.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority says both the hospital and the seniors’ centre are undergoing a major scrubdown of counters, toilets and other common areas to make sure the bug doesn't resurface.




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