Protecting Against Chickenpox

Protecting Against Chickenpox | Dr. Ali Ghahary

An American state is experiencing one of the worst chickenpox outbreaks in decades, after at least 36 children from a North Carolina private school were diagnosed with the virus. This is the largest outbreak to hit the state since the varicella vaccine was first introduced in 1995. The varicella vaccine is a type of injection that can prevent an individual from getting the chickenpox, which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The vaccine is made from a live but weakened version of the virus, which stimulates a response from the immune system and gives a person immunity from the illness.

Most cases of chickenpox tend to be relatively mild and will run its course in approximately 10 days, though it is a very contagious disease. Someone with chickenpox will develop a blister-like rash and will also experience itchy skin, fatigue, as well as fever. If you’ve never had the chickenpox before and are an older adult, then these symptoms can sometimes be severe. Complications can also arise as a result of the chickenpox and can lead to potentially life-threatening health problems such as pneumonia (a severe respiratory infection), inflammation or infection of the brain, as well as the potential for developing a bloodstream infection. The risk of someone suffering from these types of complications increases in those with weakened immune systems – which primarily occurs in infants or older adults, such as those that are elderly.

So, the best way you can prevent becoming infected with the chickenpox virus is to make sure that you are vaccinated. Along with protecting against childhood chickenpox, the vaccine can also protect against developing shingles as an adult. Shingles, which is caused by a reactivation of the same virus that also causes the chickenpox, occurs in individuals who have previously had the chickenpox. Similar to chickenpox, someone with shingles will develop a blistering rash, which usually first appears as in a band around the torso. It usually develops in a very specific pattern, making it easy for a physician to diagnose based on appearance alone. Along with this rash, one can also develop other symptoms including tingling, itching, or burning of the skin (which tends to precede the rash by a few days), body aches, fever and chills, headache, and nausea.

Because the chickenpox can spread so easily, health officials warn that if you or your child does happen to have chickenpox (or should you develop it in the future), then you should take all precautions to not only better yourself, but better the health of those around you and avoid putting your community at risk. Such as staying home from school, work, playgrounds, and other public areas.

The chickenpox vaccine is generally administered as a series of 2 doses – the first of which is given around 12 months at age, and the second dose given between 4 and 6 years of age. It’s also not uncommon for the second dose to be a combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella vaccine – also known as MMRV. For those aged 13 or older who have not yet been immunized, the doses are usually administered 6 weeks apart. While these vaccines are generally safe, some common reactions that one might notice include soreness, redness, and/or swelling at the site in which the vaccine was administered. In very rare cases, an allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can occur, so it is important that you stay at your clinic or pharmacy (wherever the vaccine was administered) for at least 15 to 20 minutes to make sure that no allergic or adverse reaction from the vaccine occurs.