GV reports cluster of chickenpox cases


GVL / Aida Dennis

Grace Smith, Staff Writer

On Feb. 6, Grand Valley State University notified students, staff and faculty about a “small cluster” of chickenpox cases at both Allendale and Pew campuses.

The threat of chickenpox cases was minimal. The GVSU Health Team took action to make sure that the cases were isolated. Thus far, the cluster of cases has remained limited to only three individuals, Director of Student Health Services Edward Jones II said. 

The COVID public health emergency is likely coming to an end, but GVSU remains vigilant as there are some concerns on the tail end of the pandemic,” Jones said. “We also have strong relationships with both the Kent and Ottawa County Health Departments.”

Recently, childhood immunization rates have reached a 30-year low, globally. Healthcare limitations during COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in a stall of routine care such as vaccinations for children, creating an increasingly vulnerable population. Likewise, pre-existing healthcare inequities among marginalized groups were amplified during lockdown. Coupled with Michigan’s declining vaccination rates in pre-pandemic years, the community could be more susceptible to diseases. 

According to GVSU, those infected with chickenpox have received treatment and their close contacts have been notified. However, the cases have been a subject of concern for some GVSU students. 

Chickenpox is highly contagious and spreads easily between people living in close quarters, like dormitories. According to the CDC, as many as 90% of susceptible individuals will contract the virus if in contact with a person infected with chickenpox.

For those who are unsure about their vaccination status, Jones said they should first have a conversation with their parents to ensure that they have gotten the vaccine and see if they have had chickenpox in the past. He also said that individuals can also reach out to their primary care provider or one of the campus health centers. The chickenpox vaccine, in addition to many other vaccinations, is available on campus for people who wish to receive it. 

Since its development, the chickenpox vaccination has prevented over 3.5 million cases of chickenpox annually in the United States. Before, the virus reached around 4 million Americans each year, according to the CDC. The efficacy of the vaccine shows that vaccination can be a highly effective way for students to prevent the contraction and spread of the virus.

Those who have already received the vaccine or have experienced chickenpox at some point are considered to be immune to the virus.

“Some will choose not to receive the vaccination; this could be for religious or other philosophical reasons,” Jones said. “However, the prevention of communicable disease is more of a community endeavor.”

Jones broke down the steps of communicable disease prevention into three components: making informed decisions, practicing good hygiene and staying home when sick. Not only do these strategies work towards managing communicable diseases like chickenpox, but also more common viruses such as COVID-19 or the flu.

If students are experiencing symptoms of chickenpox, they are strongly urged to contact either the Campus Health Center or the GVSU Family Health Center, or call (616) 685-7600.