Concern as chickenpox cases soar
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A SHARP spike in the number of chickenpox and shingles cases across Queensland has prompted calls for people to get vaccinated as the new school year approaches.
There were 9180 cases of the varicella-zoster virus - which includes chickenpox and shingles - reported to Queensland Health between January 1 and December 16. That's a 37 per cent increase on the year-to-date average (6680 cases) for the past five years.
While chickenpox is more common among children, most cases of shingles occur in people over 40.
In the third quarter of this year, 572 people were diagnosed with chickenpox in Queensland - 216 of them children aged five to seven.
A further 1033 people were treated for shingles, including 344 aged between 10 and 59.
According to recent data, about 93 per cent of Queensland kids aged two were vaccinated for varicella.
Sunshine Coast GP Shaun Rudd said the figures were a reminder that immunisations were important.
"It's a reminder really that these things do exist, they are around. You don't want kids in school with chickenpox, you want them to stay at home … if kids are immunised … it doesn't get into the school."
While it's not known why numbers have soared, "more sensitive testing methods" have been suggested.
A Queensland Health spokeswoman urged Queenslanders to ensure they were vaccinated and their children were up-to-date.
"Minimising the spread of disease in the community is everyone's responsibility.
"As the Varicella virus is always circulating, vaccination is the best protection," she said.
After having chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the nerves close to the spine.
As a person gets older, or if they have a weakened immune system, the virus can reappear in the form of shingles.
A single dose of the varicella vaccine is given at 18 months while a shingles vaccine is available to people aged 70. Both are free at these ages.