Ask Dr. Marla: Is chickenpox getting more dangerous for kids?

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on February 19, 2013
I heard chickenpox is getting more dangerous for kids. Is this true?

Answer:

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. There is no reason to believe that chicken pox is more dangerous than ever, however, the course of chickenpox can have significant complications.

Prior to the vaccine era, 90 percent of cases happened in children before age 10. We presently recommend two doses of a chickenpox vaccine to protect your child from this common infectious disease.

Typically the course in children is benign, with a rash preceded by fever, headache and a sore throat. The characteristic rash starts as red spots that go on to blister. There are successive crops of lesions that erupt over 14 days or so.

Very young children or children with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of complications. Though they are not common, they can indeed occur.

Complications can include: dehydration, pneumonia, bleeding problems, infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia), blood stream infections (sepsis), bone infections, joint infections, toxic shock syndrom, bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues including Group A streptococcal infections. Some people with serious complications from chickenpox can become so sick that they need to be hospitalized.

The Centers for Disease Control points out that some deaths from chickenpox continue to occur in healthy, unvaccinated children and adults. For these reasons, it is important to get vaccinated.

Got a health question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| February 19, 2013

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