More than 150 students at the Paramakatoi Secondary School are now infected with the chicken pox virus since it was first identified in the school.
Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton on Thursday stated that the Ministry learnt of the outbreak a week ago and since then the number of cases have climbed to 160 within the dormitory.
“As of this morning [yesterday], there are 160 accumulated affected cases; however, the exact male to female ratio is unknown. The medical and environmental teams are working to prevent the spread of the virus and treat all infected children,” he told the media in a press conference.
The Minister assured that the Public Health Ministry has secured the necessary pharmaceuticals to treat the outbreak, while efforts are being made to get the varicella vaccine, which was introduced into the country in March 2015.
Chicken pox is a disease that is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which causes patients to develop a blister-like rash or boils that first appear on the face or trunk and then spread throughout the body even inside the mouth, eyelids or genital area.
The virus spreads mainly through tiny droplets from infected people that get into the air after they breathe, talk, cough or sneeze.
Norton said that they were working in collaboration with the Education Ministry to contain the virus and so they arrived at a decision for all classes to be suspended until the area was safe.
He indicated that the infected children were quarantined in a separate part of the dormitory and those who were not infected were sent to another part of the dormitory. So far, he said the Ministry had a team on ground and they would be vaccinating persons who were not infected or who have never had the virus.
The best way to prevent getting the virus is to get the chicken pox vaccine. Children, adolescents and adults should get two doses of the vaccine. The chicken pox vaccine is very safe and effective at preventing the disease, the Ministry said. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chicken pox.
According to Adolescent Health Coordinator, Dr Oneka Scott, the vaccine is not part of the Ministry’s regular immunisation schedule but was introduced for the vulnerable populations – persons in places such as dorms and orphanages, healthcare workers, port health officers and sanitary workers.
“While it is not deadly, it is worrying because our children are sick,” Dr Norton said.
It was reported that there are about 200 to 300 children living in the dorms. “While we don’t have all the information at hand, we are putting the pieces together. All we know is that we are dealing with two schools,” said Dr Scott.
She reiterated that the vaccines would be given to children and anyone else at risk of exposure, which would include teachers, healthcare workers and community members. She stated that the uninfected children would be given preventative medication with acyclovir tablets.
The Ministry has indicated that health education sessions about the disease to aid in prevention of its spread are being conducted by healthcare personnel and the environmental officers dispatched to the area. (Guyana Times)