Chickenpox, also called varicella, contagious viral disease characterized by an eruption of vesicles (small blisters) on the skin. The disease usually occurs in epidemics, and the infected persons are generally between two and six years old, although they can be of any age. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes herpes zoster (also called zoster, shingles, or zona), a localized eruption of large blisters. Chickenpox is the clinical reaction to a first exposure to the virus.
Need for varicella vaccine
Most cases of chickenpox are relatively mild and run their course in five to 10 days. But it can be very serious, even life-threatening, in a small percentage of people. Before the varicella vaccine was licensed in the U.S. in 1995, there were approximately 100 deaths and more than 11,000 hospitalizations a year from chickenpox.
Who needs vaccine?
Children under age 13 years should get two doses
- First dose at age 12 through 15 months
- Second dose at age 4 through 6 years
People 13 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine should get two doses, at least 28 days apart.
Side effects associated with vaccine
All medicines have potential side effects. But the side effects associated with the varicella vaccine are generally mild. The most common are pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site. A small percentage of people develop a mild rash, usually around the spot where the shot was given. Severe side effects are very rare.
It is also possible for a person who has been vaccinated for chickenpox to develop chickenpox at some later point in life. When that happens, the disease is almost always milder and the recovery more rapid than for people who have not had the shots. The lesions also may not follow the same crusting pattern and the vesicles may not have as much fluid in them when a vaccinated patient develops the virus.
But it is important to keep in mind that up to 90% of the people who get the vaccine will not catch chickenpox.
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Journal of Vaccines & Vaccination