Varicella vaccine has been in the market since 1995 and new studies show that it has nearly wiped out deaths from chickenpox in the United States. With only two diseases officially fully eradicated in the world, this is good news and signs of progress in the bio tech community.
Deaths from chickenpox have diminished by 88% in all age groups and by 97% in young people 20 and under, according to the study from the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Chickenpox led to about 105 deaths a year during the pre-vaccine years of 1990 to 1994. Between 2002 and 2007, the annual average number of chickenpox deaths was the lowest ever reported, with 14 deaths recorded in 2007 and just 13 the year before.
In fact, double shots are really doing the trick. In 2006, a second dose was added to the vaccination roster which really eliminates casualties, but the decrease in deaths occurred largely during the time when just one shot was recommended. Chickenpox related deaths are now extremely rare.
Chickenpox is a common illness among kids, particularly those under age 12. An itchy rash of spots that look like blisters can appear all over the body and be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Symptoms usually go away without treatment, but because the infection is very contagious, an infected child should stay home and rest until the symptoms are gone.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Kids can be protected from VZV by getting the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine, usually between the ages of 12 to 15 months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends a booster shot at 4 to 6 years old for further protection. The CDC also recommends that people 13 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine get two doses of the vaccine at least 28 days apart.
A person usually has only one episode of chickenpox, but VZV can lie dormant within the body and cause a different type of skin eruption later in life called shingles (or herpes zoster). Getting the chickenpox vaccine significantly lowers kids' chances of getting chickenpox, but they might still develop shingles later in life.
Experts said they hope the findings will reassure anxious parents and alert them to the life-saving benefits of varicella vaccination.
Dr. Gail Demmler-Harrison, professor of pediatrics-infectious disease at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston comments:
"We don't see severe varicella anymore. There is a common misconception that chickenpox is a benign inconvenience of childhood and a rite of passage, but it almost always leaves lasting foot prints and there is a lot of suffering with plain old chickenpox as well as how it [affects] the family. The risks of varicella and its complications are real, and the risks of vaccine are minimal."
Anyone who has had chickenpox (or the chickenpox vaccine) as a child is at risk for developing shingles later in life, and up to 20% do. After an infection, VZV can remain inactive in nerve cells near the spinal cord and reactivate later as shingles, which can cause tingling, itching, or pain followed by a rash with red bumps and blisters. Shingles is sometimes treated with antiviral drugs, steroids, and pain medications, and there's now a shingles vaccine for people 60 and older.
Source: The Journal of Pediatrics
Written by Sy Kraft