Exposure to chickenpox can be dangerous. The warning from health officials in Ocean County comes after it was discovered that a majority of more than 50 cases in Lakewood since October involved children who had not been immunized.

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Dr. Charles Geneslaw, a pediatrician in Ocean County, pointed out that while the typical child won't suffer any serious harm typically with the chickenpox vaccine, exposure to the highly contagious disease can be dangerous for others.

"Infants, people with chronic illnesses, older people — you're putting your entire community at risk if you don't get immunized," he said.

"It's a very foolish choice to make, especially given the very safe record that immunization has with decades now of use."

Although unusual, Geneslaw noted that an otherwise healthy person also could be at risk of having serious problems with chickenpox.

The disease is spread through close and direct contact, such as coughing and sneezing or touching lesions. Classic symptoms of chickenpox are a red, itchy rash that usually starts on the face, chest and back, then spreads to the rest of the body and fluid-filled blisters, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"If the pox themselves become secondarily infected with a bacterial infection, that's a lot more serious," Geneslaw said.

A child under age 1 can be immunized for chickenpox, but Geneslaw said, "Then you need to pick up with the standard immunization schedule which is one after 12 months of age and one after 4 years of age. The booster should be at least one month from the index immunization."

Adults who might think they didn't have chickenpox as a child, actually did, according to Geneslaw.

"You don't have to get the typical rash to actually be infected and develop immunity. It is more common if you get infected and don't get a significant rash that you will develop good immunity. But you can be infected, not get the rash, and still be immune."

Geneslaw recommended for those who are susceptible to chickenpox to see their doctor.

"Your doctor can do a blood test to see if you're immune. If you aren't, then you should get the two-shot regimen. The first shot, then the second one no less than a month after the first one," Geneslaw said.

For parents concerned that the chickenpox vaccine isn't safe, Geneslaw says "the science is conclusive."

"The immunization is very, very safe and well tolerated ... Everything has risk.The risk of being immunized is much, much, much less than the risk of not being immunized."

 

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com.

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