Two cases of Varicella, commonly known as chickenpox, were reported to the Student Health Center last week, according to a series of emails sent out to the Cal State Fullerton community from CSUF Housing.
The first case was reported on Sept. 26 and involved a student living in the residence halls, according to the emails. The student may have exposed other students, faculty and staff to the virus from Sept. 23 through Sept. 26, specifically in the Gastronome and residence hall areas.
The student will remain off campus until they are no longer contagious.
The second case was reported on Sept. 27 and involved a student living off campus, according to the emails. The student may have exposed other students, faculty and staff when they attended a “Meet the Firms” event on campus on Sept. 22.
Chickenpox is an airborne disease that is spread through coughing or sneezing and by coming into contact with the virus particles from the blister-like rash that forms, according to the email sent out to students. It can cause itching, tiredness and fever.
“It’s centripetal, meaning that’s how it spreads,” said Dr. Richard Boucher, chief staff physician for the Student Health Center. “If you were to take the body, spin the body around, and the center part was the chest, then the rash spreads out as you spin. It goes chest, neck, face, the abdomen, down the back, and then arms and legs.”
Most people infected with the virus will remain contagious for about a week, Boucher said.
“You become contagious once you get infected,” Boucher said. “The difficulty with this is you can already be infected but not have the rash yet. You can spread the virus 48 hours before the rash appears and until all the spots have crusted over. Once they’re all crusted over, you’re no longer contagious.”
The CDC recommends two doses of the Varicella vaccine to prevent contracting the virus. For children, the CDC recommends getting the first dose between 12 to 15 months of age and the second dose at four to six years of age. For adults, they recommend getting two doses at least 28 days apart.
Each year, more than 3.5 million cases of Varicella, 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths are prevented by the Varicella vaccination in the United States, according to the CDC.
“We’ve pretty much covered the bases on young people getting vaccinated early on, but that doesn’t mean that everybody is,” said Paula Selleck, a Strategic Communications CSUF University spokesperson.
The Varicella vaccine is recommended but not required on the list of vaccines new students are required to provide proof of to the CSU they are attending, according to the Shots for School website.
Boucher recommends isolating infected individuals but said that roommates and family members of the individual who have immunity are able to continue attending school and work.
“If you’ve been vaccinated against it or you’ve had it before, you’re safe,” Boucher said.
This notion brings relief to students who received their vaccinations as a child.
“I’m not very scared because I’ve been vaccinated for everything so I’m not at risk for chickenpox,” said Grace Poat, second-year communications major who lives in the residence halls, “I am nervous for people who haven’t been vaccinated because they’re at risk.”
However, other students living in the residence halls who can’t recall if they have received both doses of the vaccine or question the effectiveness of the shot holding up over many years are concerned they may have been exposed and are susceptible to becoming infected.
“Honestly, it’s a very scary thing having never had it before,” said Jordan Lim, fourth-year electrical engineering major and resident advisor for housing. “Should I just stay in my room all day? Or do I go out? This is the only place I eat, here in the Gastronome. It’s tough. It’s kind of a scary thing.”
Boucher said students looking to relieve their mental anguish can get Varicella titers drawn through a blood test at the Student Health Center to determine whether they have resistance to the viral infection. The test is then sent to Quest Labs to determine results.
If results show that the student has resistance to the virus, this means that earlier doses of the vaccine they received are still effective or they have already had chickenpox at some point in their life and are considered immune, Boucher said.
“For the most part, I haven’t heard of any that have weaned in their immunity having received a chickenpox vaccine,” Boucher said.
The vaccine itself, however, is not available at the Student Health Center, Boucher said.
“We don’t offer it here because (the vaccine) takes a special way to store it in the freezer, and we don’t have that capacity in our pharmacy,” Boucher said.
However, students that contract the chickenpox virus can be treated with the antiviral medication Acyclovir at the Student Health Center and should seek medication as soon as the rash appears, Boucher said.
While Boucher describes the virus as a “fairly benign disease,” he still warns that in extremely rare cases, chickenpox can cause Encephalitis, inflammation of the brain and Pneumonitis, inflammation of the lung, as well as secondary bacterial infections on the lesions themselves.
“It’s the adults that can get sicker- that can have more problems,” Boucher said. “For the most part, nothing happens, but we shouldn’t take it lightly because it can be very serious.”