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Multiple vaccines urged for children in Halifax County

Recent outbreaks of chickenpox and a single case of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, have been confirmed in two elementary schools, officials said Friday.

Since Sept. 1, eight cases of chickenpox have been reported in children and adults at Cluster Springs Elementary, and at South Boston Elementary a single case of MRSA has been confirmed in a kindergarten student.

According to a Virginia Department of Health press release, the majority of the children confirmed with chickenpox at Cluster Springs Elementary have had at least one dose of the chickenpox vaccine; however, a single dose does not confer optimal protection.

“Even if your child has had one dose of chickenpox vaccine, it is possible to still acquire the disease,” said Dr. Charles Devine III, health director for Southside Health District.

Since June 2006, a second dose of varicella vaccine has been advised as part of the routine childhood vaccination program to assist, in part, with outbreak prevention and control.

“By age 4 to 6, all children should have received two doses of chickenpox vaccine in order to add protection and reduce the chance of getting the disease. Children aged 4 to 6 who may have received only one dose of chicken pox vaccine when they entered school should get their second dose,” Devine said.

Parents of children needing their second dose of chickenpox vaccine may contact their doctor’s offices or may receive the vaccine at the Halifax County Health Department.

Parents or caretakers may call the health department at 476-4863, Devine added.

Parents are asked to bring their children’s immunization records when visiting the health department.

“Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that is easily transmitted in classroom settings. It has an incubation period of anywhere from 10 to 21 days after contact, but the most contagious period is from one to two days before the rash appears until right after it appears. An infected person no longer spreads the virus when all the blisters have scabs, and no new blisters are forming. Children should not return to school until all blisters have scabbed,” Devine said.

Letters went home Friday notifying parents and guardians that a case of MRSA has been confirmed in a kindergarten student at South Boston Elementary School, Assistant Superintendent Joe Griles said Friday.

Griles said the student who had the infection has returned to school and remains under the care of a physician.

Letters that have been sent home to parents in past instances of MRSA outbreaks have outlined the steps they can take to prevent the spread of MRSA, including frequent hand washing with soap and water.

Health department officials said MRSA bacteria are common in the environment. They are carried primarily on the skin of healthy people and are the cause of minor skin infections. One out of every 100 people is colonized with it, health officials said. 

Staph bacteria, such as MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful or have pus or other drainage, according to the fact sheet released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The more serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections or surgical wound infections.

In the 1990s, a different type of MRSA began showing up outside of hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The Mayo Clinic said in an article on its website that form of staph is known as community-associated or CA-MRSA.

MRSA is a form of staph that is resistant to antibiotics called beta-lactams. These include methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin, according to Millie Lavaway, infection prevention and control practitioner for Halifax Regional Health System.

This strain of staph is responsible for a number of serious skin and soft tissue infections and also for a serious form of pneumonia.

Health officials said this form of MRSA can produce toxins, and if they become invasive they can spread through the bloodstream, making it much harder to treat.

For more information about MRSA, contact the Halifax County Health Department or a medical professional.