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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Chicken pox cases on the rise at Pinellas elementary school



The number of chicken pox cases at a Clearwater elementary school has risen from eight to 14 students, according to the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. 

Following an outbreak at the school, health officials last month sent a letter to parents of 18 unvaccinated Plumb Elementary asking their children to stay home for at least 21 days  — the time it takes for symptoms to begin showing — or until they receive their first dose of the chicken pox vaccine. Out of the group, one student was exempted from the vaccine for a medical reason; the others were religious reasons. At that time, at least one of the eight sick children was vaccinated.

Health department spokeswoman Maggie Hall said a representative from the epidemiology department visited the school Wednesday morning to give faculty and staff a presentation on the virus and how to properly wash your hands, since the virus is carried through person-to-person contact. Plumb, located at 1920 Lakeview Road, has an enrollment of 770 students.

"We'd love to see it stop and see kids fully vaccinated," she said. 

Pinellas County school district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said some students have returned to the school after receiving a vaccination, but could not provide a specific number citing student privacy. She could not elaborate on how many of the newer cases had been vaccinated or if they were siblings of those who were originally reported as sick.

Chicken pox, also known as varicella, is an acute, highly infectious disease that causes rashes and crusty lesions. People who are not vaccinated against the virus are also at risk of developing a high fever or pneumonia. 

The chicken pox vaccine is required for all children who enroll in Florida public schools. It is included in the MMRV vaccine, which is administered in two doses and also protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Students can be exempted for medical reasons or, according to the Florida Department of Health, "if immunizations are in conflict with the religious tenets and practices of the child's parent or guardian."

The Pinellas Health Department reported 38 cases of chicken pox last year. A total of 743 cases were reported statewide.

[Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2016 5:23pm]


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