FAQs for students contacted by UHS regarding possible chickenpox exposure

February 13, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State health officials are contacting a small subset of about 150 students who attended an event on campus Saturday, Feb. 7, to discuss their possible exposure to chickenpox and, if found to be at risk for developing the disease, their need to be absent from the upcoming Dance Marathon (THON). For additional information, read the story here.

The following are FAQs only for students who have been directly contacted by University Health Services (UHS).

Q: How did the possible exposure happen?

A: The Nittany Lions’ basketball game against Nebraska, held at the Bryce Jordan Center, was the designated annual THON Hoops game in which about 70 families with children diagnosed with or recovering from pediatric cancer participated. One child in the group that attended had been unknowingly exposed to the chickenpox virus. That child had been immune to chickenpox prior to beginning treatment for cancer. However, that treatment reduced the child’s immunity. Therefore, the child was susceptible to the virus when recently exposed.

Q: If I have already had chickenpox, or been vaccinated against chickenpox, am I at risk?

A: If you’ve had chickenpox or have been vaccinated, the risk of contracting the disease is minimal.

Q: If I have never had chickenpox and have never been vaccinated, what should I do?

A: If you have been contacted by UHS and are a student who either A) has not been vaccinated against chickenpox or B) has never had chickenpox, it is too late for you to be properly immunized prior to THON on Feb. 20-22. To protect the safety of those who may be vulnerable to the disease, you should not attend THON.

The incubation period for chickenpox is 10 – 21 days, with an average is 14-16 days. It is important to understand that people who develop chickenpox can pass the infection to others one to two days before the rash develops, before they even know they have the infection. Chickenpox typically begins on the face or torso and can resemble pimples or bug bites initially. Eventually the rash will spread to other parts of the body.

Anyone who develops a rash should contact UHS at 814-863-4463 for further advice and evaluation.

Q: How can I prove that I have had chickenpox in the past / that I have been vaccinated? Can I attend THON if I have proof of vaccination / proof of prior exposure?

A: All students who have been contacted directly by UHS and potentially have been exposed should avoid THON unless they can verify their vaccination or can prove that they have had chickenpox in the past.

Students should request that their doctor’s office fax a copy of their immunization record to UHS at 814-865-6982. Students who had chickenpox as a child may contact UHS to have a blood test done to confirm immunity. Students should never email personal medical information, including immunization records, to UHS.

Q: If I already have had chickenpox / have been vaccinated, am I still potentially contagious as a result of my attendance at the THON Hoops event?

A: No.

Q: Can I get tested for possible exposure?

A: No, there is no test to reliably determine exposure to the virus prior to developing the rash. This is why it’s so important for students who have been directly contacted by UHS to avoid THON if they do not have immunity to the disease.

Q: What should I do to protect the people with whom I live / others with whom I am in close contact?

A: Encourage them to verify their chickenpox immune status. In addition, do not share food or drinks, avoid social gatherings, and minimize your contact with others as much as possible until you have reached the end of the 21-day incubation period. If you develop chickenpox, isolate yourself from others and contact UHS for further advice and evaluation by calling the advice nurse at 814-863-4463.

Q: Am I contagious? How can I confirm that I am not?

A: If you do not have immunity to chickenpox, you will not know if you were contagious until you develop the chickenpox rash. Remember, by that time you will have already been contagious for 1-2 days. If you do not have immunity to chickenpox, avoid contact with others as much as possible.

Q: Am I a danger to other students in my classes? Should I continue going to class?

A: At this time UHS medical professionals are not recommending that anyone refrain from going to classes. However, at the first sign of chickenpox, contact UHS and isolate yourself from others until you can be evaluated by a clinician. It is also a good idea to limit social interactions during the 21-day incubation period. If you have any questions, you may contact the UHS Advice Nurse at 814-863-4463.

Q: What are the symptoms of chickenpox? What should I do if I think I have the disease?

A: The first symptoms of possible exposure to chickenpox include:

    A fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to 103 degrees Fahrenheit
    Feeling sick, tired and sluggish.
    Little or no appetite.
    Headache or sore throat.

After one or two days after the first symptoms appear, an itchy rash develops. The rash typically develops with just a few lesions on the face and/or torso and often has been confused for pimples or bug bites. Within the next 24-48 hours the rash will increase and spread to other parts of the body.

Last Updated February 13, 2015