Three cases of chickenpox in young adults from the Kenai and Soldotna area since mid-February have been reported by the Alaska Department of Health in a press release Thursday.
State officials believe there is potential for more people to be at risk of exposure for anyone who has not been exposed to chickenpox or received a vaccination.
Dr. Brian Yablon, a state epidemiologist, said chickenpox is very contagious and can cause serious complications to infants, adolescents and adults who have not been exposed.
“People think of chickenpox as being a mild disease,” he said. “It can cause complications including pneumonia, encephalitis and rarely cause death.”
He said an infant died from chickenpox in California two years ago.
People at higher risk such as young babies and young adults should get vaccinated if they have not done so.
Yablon said for people born before 1980 are generally safe because they have either been exposed at a younger age and are now immune and cannot capture it again.
A chickenpox vaccination is required for school age children from Kindergarten through sixth grade.
The first reported case in the central peninsula occurred in mid-February with the two cases diagnosed more than week later. The illness spreads from person to person by direct contact or through the air by coughing or sneezing, Yablon said. It takes 10 to 21 days after contact for an infected person to develop chickenpox, he said.
A person with chickenpox is contagious one to two days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. People with chickenpox should stay away from schools and other public places until their blisters have formed scabs, Yablon said. Anyone who acquires chickenpox is at risk for developing shingles later in life, he said.
“We want to make sure people are aware that chickenpox is circulating in the area and that it is preventable with a vaccination,” he said.
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org