Updated Oct. 11
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital officials announced that they are partnering with Island public health leaders to address the report of a case of chickenpox at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School.
In a release issued Friday, the hospital reports that Island boards of health will be conducting contact tracing, and parents will be notified if their child has been exposed.
The hospital reports that “two additional cases are being investigated at this time.”
“We are working in collaboration with the board of health and the school on a solution to address potential exposure to students,” hospital chief nurse and vice president of operations Claire Seguin is quoted in the release.
The hospital reports that chickenpox complications can be serious for both children and adults, and studies have shown that chickenpox-related hospitalizations have decreased 97 percent since a vaccine became available in 1995.
Sequin said the best way to avoid chickenpox is through vaccination.
Data recently released by the state shows that the Charter School ranks among the highest in the state in terms of exemptions for vaccine requirements.
The Charter School ranked seventh statewide, with nearly 13 percent of students receiving an exemption for at least one vaccine, on average, over the past three years. The data did not specify which vaccines the exemptions were for.
The administration at the Charter School first reported one case of chickenpox among the student population on Wednesday. School director Peter Steedman sent a letter to parents providing guidance to families to take precautions.
“We have consulted with epidemiologists at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, local boards of health, and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital,” Steedman wrote in the letter. “If your child does not have serologic evidence of immunity to varicella (a blood test), a history of chickenpox as verified by a healthcare provider, or documentation of two doses of chickenpox vaccine, your child should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Steedman wrote to parents on Wednesday. “If your child has already received one dose of the chickenpox vaccine, your child should receive a second dose of the vaccine.”
Steedman said that the school has made contact with the families of students the state health department has identified as an at-risk group.
Chickenpox, also called varicella, causes an itchy rash that lasts about a week. It is usually mild, but can be serious in infants under 12 months of age, adolescents, adults, pregnant people, and people with a weakened immune system, the hospital reports. Symptoms can include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, and headache.
The hospital also said that varicella can lead to skin infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the blood vessels, swelling of the brain and/or spinal cord covering, and infections of the bloodstream, bone, or joints.
Most people who are vaccinated with two doses of varicella vaccine will be protected for life, the hospital reported.
“Vaccines help bring the spread of chickenpox, and other infectious diseases, under control,” Seguin is quoted in Thursday’s press release. “Low vaccination rates introduce a vulnerability.”
Public health nurse and case investigator coordinator for the Martha’s Vineyard Boards of Health Betsy VanLandingham told The Times that since the first case was reported, three other cases have been investigated. Of those, one has been dismissed, and two (a school-age child and a non-school-age child) are still being looked into.
As of Wednesday morning, “we have only identified one case at this point — the original case,” she said.
Although symptoms point to chickenpox, with the rash being consistent with infection, the original case is not technically considered to be a confirmed case, since lab work hasn’t been done. Instead, it’s been deemed “probable,” and is being treated as a true case.
Since the first report, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital reached out to parents of children who were not fully vaccinated. Over the weekend, the hospital set up a temporary vaccine clinic with 100 doses of vaccine that had been acquired for the 100 school-age Island children who were undervaccinated or unvaccinated.
It is not clear at this time how many of the 100 received the vaccination.