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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Faced with 10 documented cases of chickenpox since May — a sharp increase over the two or three in a normal year — Yokota medical officials have taken steps to prevent its spread by targeting vaccinations of children and adults who never had the highly contagious viral illness.

Lt. Col. Catherine Bard, a physician and the 374th Medical Group’s chief of medical staff, said Wednesday the base hospital last received a call about chickenpox four days ago.

“We’re hoping we’ve circled around the acute cases,” she said. “Chickenpox is nothing to be worried about. It’s mostly kid’s stuff. Chickenpox is chickenpox. When we had it, the worst part is it itched, and you didn’t get to go outside and play.

“We would like to try to contain it but the risk of a serious complication from chickenpox is actually very, very low. This is a common disease.”

Bard said the Yokota cases — 11 total in 2006, including one in February — have appeared to be mild. If vaccinated, the risk of contracting chickenpox is only 20 to 30 percent, she added.

“We have three to five days from the time someone has been exposed that we can vaccinate that person and prevent them from coming down with the disease and spreading it,” Bard said.

To further bolster that effort, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices soon will recommend a second dose, or booster shot, be included in standard vaccinations for children, according to Bard. Base schools and day-care centers require vaccinations for children who haven’t already had chickenpox prior to admission.

Through annual preventive health assessments and other examinations, Bard said Yokota doctors would determine who else needs vaccinations to help control the disease’s spread here, based on ACIP’s upcoming recommendation.

Other U.S. military installations, including Misawa Air Base and Yokosuka Naval Base, had not seen a spike this year, she added. Since Japan doesn’t immunize against chickenpox, Yokota officials speculated it’s a localized problem that originated outside the gates.

“But it’s not the kind of thing to be concerned about like avian flu or smallpox, more serious illnesses. This is just a virus that runs its course. For kids, they handle it just fine in most cases.”

Home care almost always is the only treatment required, she added. Calamine lotion, oatmeal and baking soda baths are among suggested treatment methods to soothe the itchiness. Tylenol and Benadryl are helpful but aspirin can cause the dangerous Reye’s Syndrome in young children.

Yokota residents who suspect infection in themselves or their children should not go directly to the hospital; they should avoid public areas because of contamination concerns, Bard said. Instead, they’re being told to call Urgent Care at DSN 225-7740 or the pediatric clinic at DSN 225-8864 to consult with a physician.

A mild malady

Chickenpox is characterized by a skin rash of blister-like lesions that break out in stages on the face, scalp, arms and trunk. Cold and flu-like symptoms, a low-grade fever and body aches lasting about three days are early indicators.

During that time, the airborne malady often is transmitted to others via breathing, coughing and sneezing.

Individuals who come down with chickenpox mount a natural immune response later in life. The vaccinations attempt to replicate that body trigger.

While relatively benign in healthy children, the disease is usually more severe and uncomfortable for adults and teenagers. It can trigger complications such as pneumonia. Pregnant women, infants and people with weak immune systems also are susceptible.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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