Chickenpox and childhood often come in a pair. Many of us readily associate chickenpox as a childhood disease. Contrary to this common misconception, chickenpox can infect adults and cause devastating consequences.
You may remember getting chickenpox as a child and recovered relatively unscathed. So, how can chickenpox be serious and why should we even bother vaccinating?
Firstly, chickenpox can cause a whole lot of needless discomfort for most children. Having over 350 red, itchy and fluid-filled blisters across the body is something no child should have to go through. There is also a risk of having a more severe bout of chickenpox where the blisters can lead to bacterial skin infections. This can cause scarring and skin discolouration.
Secondly, chickenpox can cause a host of potentially life-threatening complications for adults especially older adults, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems. Adults who contract chickenpox are more likely to be admitted to hospitals.
Also, it was not so long ago that chickenpox was considered a public health threat. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), in the USA alone, chickenpox used to affect an average of 4 million every year before vaccination became available.
Why take the risk and not vaccinate against chickenpox? The chickenpox (varicella) vaccination can save you and your child from a whole word world of pain and suffering, and protect you against potentially life-threatening consequences.
Complications Of Chickenpox
Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It spreads from person to person by direct contact or through an infected person’s cough or sneeze. An infected individual will begin to be contagious 1-2 days before the rash develops and until the blisters disappear.
Chickenpox is well known as a relatively mild illness with a red and itchy rash. However, the disease can vary greatly in severity. The most common manifestation of the disease comes in the form of about 250 to 500 blisters that usually appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest and belly, and on the arms and legs. These will eventually turn into scabs and fall off on their own which usually signifies complete recovery.
Your child will not be able to attend school for up to 2 weeks during this time. He or she may miss out on important curriculum or, even worse, tests and examinations! You would also have to take time off work to help nurse your child back to health and also to keep a watchful eye on your child so he or she does not scratch at the blisters.
Chickenpox Can Affect Adults Too
If you have chickenpox as an adult you may be asked to take at least 2 weeks or more off work. Imagine the amount of work waiting for you when you return. If you are paid by an hourly or daily wage, you would be facing loss of income as well.
But chickenpox can lead to other complications, some of which are potentially life-threatening, such as lung infection (pneumonia), swelling of the brain (encephalitis), and bacterial infection of the skin. Encephalitis, in particular, can lead to convulsions, deafness or brain damage.
The dangers of chickenpox infection are very real. Before vaccination became available, chickenpox used to be very common in many parts of the world. In the USA, it was estimated that between 10,500 and 13,000 people were hospitalised and of these, 100 to 150 people would die because of chickenpox. Most of these people were healthy before infection.
Chickenpox is a disease to be reckoned with and should not be overlooked as a childhood disease or dismissed as benign.
Chickenpox In Pregnancy
If a woman does not get chickenpox as a child or has not gone for her chickenpox vaccination then she is at risk of getting chickenpox during pregnancy.
The risks of complications are twofold: both mother and baby are at risk. This is because a pregnant woman with chickenpox can pass it onto her baby before and after birth.
According to the CDC 10-20% of pregnant women with chickenpox can develop pneumonia, and the risk of death is as high as 40%. If chickenpox infection occurs in the first or early second trimester of pregnancy there is a slight risk that the baby could be born with birth defects known as congenital varicella syndrome. He or she may be born with low birth weight, have scarring on the skin, and have problems with arms, legs, eyes and brain.
Mothers who develop a chickenpox rash from 5 days before to 2 days after delivery could infect their children. The CDC indicates that the risk of death is as much as 30% if newborns are infected with chickenpox.
Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to note that they should stay away from anyone who has chickenpox. If a pregnant woman is not protected against chickenpox and finds out that she has been in contact with someone who has chickenpox, she should call her doctor immediately.