Chickenpox

Chickenpox

In America and Canada all children are vaccinated against this childhood disease through their government vaccination programme. This is done from one year old to prevent them getting Chickenpox, as Chickenpox can be a very serious disease.

In the UK the NHS does not offer free vaccination unless the child is 12 years old and has not had Chickenpox. We offer this privately, so that your child can avoid the discomfort and scarring that Chickenpox causes.Two doses of chicken pox vaccination are required 4 – 6 weeks apart. Chickenpox kills 25 children and adults every year in the UK.

Chickenpox vaccination fully prevents infection in 99% of cases. The minority who do not achieve full protection will experience milder symptoms, with far fewer spots and shorter recovery time. There is evidence that vaccination within 5 days of exposure can also prevent or reduce symptoms.

Chickenpox (varicella) was once considered a rite of passage for most children. Before routine chickenpox vaccination, virtually everyone had been infected by the time they reached adulthood, sometimes with serious complications. Today, the number of cases and hospitalizations is down dramatically.

However, when chickenpox does occur, it’s highly contagious among people who aren’t immune. Most people think of chickenpox as a mild disease — and, for most, it is. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know who will develop a severe case.

The chickenpox vaccine is a safe, effective way to prevent chickenpox and its possible complications.

Risk factors

Chickenpox, which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is highly contagious, and it can spread quickly. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with the rash or by droplets dispersed into the air by coughing or sneezing.

Your risk of catching chickenpox is higher if you:

  • Haven’t had chickenpox
  • A dry cough
  • Haven’t been vaccinated for chickenpox
  • Work in or attend a school or child care facility
  • Live with children

People who’ve been vaccinated against chickenpox are usually immune to the virus. The same is true of anyone who has had chickenpox in the past. People at greatest risk of contracting chickenpox include anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated or who has never had the disease.

Complications

Chickenpox is normally a mild disease. But it can be serious and can lead to complications, especially in these high-risk groups:

  • Newborns and infants whose mothers never had chickenpox or the vaccine
  • Adults
  • Pregnant women
  • People whose immune systems are impaired by medication, such as chemotherapy, or another disease
  • People who are taking steroid medications for another disease or condition, such as children with asthma
  • People with the skin condition eczema

A common complication of chickenpox is a bacterial infection of the skin. Chickenpox may also lead to pneumonia or, rarely, an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), both of which can be very serious.

Chickenpox and shingles

Anyone who had chickenpox is at risk of a latent illness called shingles. After a chickenpox infection, some of the varicella-zoster virus may remain in your nerve cells. Many years later, the virus can reactivate and resurface as shingles — a painful band of short-lived blisters. The virus is more likely to reappear in older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

Shingles can lead to its own complication — a condition in which the pain of shingles persists long after the blisters disappear. This complication, called postherpetic neuralgia, can be severe.

A shingles vaccine is available and is recommended for adults age 60 and older who have had chickenpox in the past.

Chickenpox and pregnancy

Other complications of chickenpox affect pregnant women. Chickenpox early in pregnancy can result in a variety of problems in a newborn, including low birth weight and birth defects, such as limb abnormalities. A greater threat to a baby occurs when the mother develops chickenpox in the week before birth. Then it can cause a serious, life-threatening infection in a newborn.

If you’re pregnant and not immune to chickenpox, talk to your doctor about the risks to you and your unborn child.