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

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.

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