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Public Health Responds to Local Chickenpox Cases

When you think of chickenpox, you may think of a disease that used to be common in childhood. Most healthy kids would recover without complications. That’s true, but adults can get it, too. And for adults—as well as babies, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems—chickenpox can be serious.

Chickenpox is vaccine preventable. If you have never had chickenpox or the vaccine, be sure to get two doses of the vaccine for full protection.

In closed quarters—like school classrooms, day cares, or hospitals or secured facilities—even a couple of chickenpox cases can grow and make many people sick. The disease can spread beyond those in the closed quarters to workers, and then beyond as workers return to their homes. And that’s how a cluster of cases can turn into a large outbreak that makes many people in a community sick.

That’s what didn’t happen at Western State Hospital. Because of the quick work of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Western State hospital staff, and the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), the disease hasn’t spread and put more people at risk. Hospital staff asked the Health Department and DOH for support to get vaccinations for patients and staff within 72 hours of when they found the first case. Our investigation has:

  • Confirmed 2 cases—first case reported April 24, second May 3.
  • Screened exposed patients—about 300—for immunity.
  • Determined about 90% of exposed patients were immune.
  • Ensured the remaining exposed patients were offered vaccinations.

The hospital also screened staff for immunity and offered vaccines to those who needed it. This is what the hospital already does routinely.

We continue to work together to monitor the cluster. Support from the Legislature through Foundational Public Health Services funding supports this type of coordinated and rapid response. The funding helps us perform essential public health services like disease investigations.

Much of what we do every day to monitor and follow up on diseases in our county happens behind the scenes. We wanted to share the good work that goes on quietly when more people stay well—and fewer get sick. Even when it’s quiet, that work protects public health. It takes partners working together to make sure the safety net is strong, helping to protect the community’s health—and your health. That’s public health!

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