LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — State health officials say they are seeing a large spike in the number of chickenpox cases so far this year, mostly in people who were not vaccinated.
There were about 239 cases statewide through April, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a Wednesday release, which works out to an about 57 percent increase in the number of cases over the same time period last year.
Chickenpox is highly contagious, the health department reminded citizens in its release — it can be spread through coughing, sneezing and other contact with respiratory secretions. Because it’s caused by a virus in the herpes family, it can stay in the body and reactivate later in life, causing shingles.
The health department encouraged people to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of the disease. Most of this year’s cases — particularly those that were part of an outbreak — were in people who were not vaccinated.
“The chickenpox vaccine is safe and very effective, and is required for school and day care attendance to help prevent the spread of illness,” Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of MDHHS, said in a Wednesday statement. “It is important to know that, despite common misconceptions, illness from chickenpox can be severe and sometimes require hospitalization resulting in serious complications.”
It is true, though, that chickenpox is generally less serious in children than in adolescents or adults. Adolescents, adults and people with weakened immune systems also have a higher risk for complications.
A vaccine for chickenpox was licensed in 1995 and has since been recommended for kids. Since then, there has been about a 97 percent decline in the number of cases in Michigan, the health department said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone born after 1980 who hasn’t had chickenpox should get vaccinated. The vaccination in children has been shown to be between 89 and 98 percent effective in preventing mild to moderate chickenpox disease and 100 percent effective in preventing severe chickenpox.