For most students, any mention of chickenpox brings back memories of skipping kindergarten and getting oven mitts taped to their hands.
But the itchy disease became part of the college experience for one unlucky UNC student.
Someone who has had chickenpox can still contract shingles, which is most commonly found in people at least 60 years old.
- Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. The virus remains inactive in the body and can reactivate.
- Someone who has never had chickenpox can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles.
- Shingles appears as a rash and blisters in bands.
With one confirmed case of chickenpox on campus, the spread of the disease is always a possibility, said Mary Covington, the executive director for Campus Health Services.
“Chickenpox is very contagious and will spread to people who are susceptible,” Covington said.
“But most people are not susceptible because they had it as a child or have been vaccinated.”
Covington added that the number of cases of chickenpox at UNC varies from year to year, but that overall cases are not very common.
When one of the rare cases does occur, the school takes steps to prevent the disease from spreading.
“When they are diagnosed, we ask that the students remove themselves from the environment,” Covington said.
Affected students either return home, or the school finds a place for them to stay, she said.
The students must stay in isolation until they are no longer contagious, which usually takes around six to eight days.
Starting in 2019, the two-dose chickenpox vaccine will be required for all incoming college students in North Carolina, said Melody Gibson, the health information manager and immunization coordinator for Campus Health.
“North Carolina has a set of state laws that require all individuals who are matriculating to have documentation of certain immunizations,” she said.
Gibson and the immunization compliance staff screen every health immunization form submitted in the summer to see if the student has all the required immunizations.
A student’s age determines which vaccines he or she is required to have, as the required immunizations change based on what year the immunizations first became available.
Although the chickenpox vaccine is not currently required, it is included in the list of vaccines that the school strongly recommends.
UNC informs parents and students of these recommended vaccines at orientation.
Covington suggested washing hands frequently and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to avoid spreading sicknesses on campus.
Graduate student Katie Akin said she is not afraid of getting chickenpox because she had it as a child, but she added that sicknesses spread easily in college environments.
“It’s kind of like a preschool,” she said.
Junior Landon James said it seemed more likely that college students would get shingles, which is a rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone who has recovered from chickenpox can develop shingles, and about half of all shingles cases are in people at least 60 years old.
James said he had a pretty terrible experience with chickenpox as a child, but he is not very concerned with it spreading on campus.
“I think most people have had chickenpox already, so it’s not too big of a deal,” he said.
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