2-Dose Varicella Vaccine Drastically Curbing Chickenpox

Brandon May
Published Online: Monday, September 19th, 2016
In 2006, a 2-dose varicella vaccine schedule was implemented in the United States to prevent childhood contraction of the varicella-zoster virus, the main herpesvirus that infects humans and causes chickenpox.
 
Researchers from the CDC recently pooled retrospective data that demonstrated an 85% decrease in US chickenpox cases between 2005 and 2006, as well as between 2013 and 2014, related to this updated vaccine schedule.
 
Vaccination is widely accepted as the cornerstone of chickenpox prevention. According to CDC’s report, children between 5 and 14 years received the 2 vaccine doses more frequently and also showed the greatest reduction of chickenpox cases. CDC data also showed that 3.5 million cases of chickenpox have been prevented each year thanks to vaccination, and around 9000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths have also been prevented.
 
Vaccination measures have been increasingly implemented to ensure elimination of this common childhood illness. In addition, the effectiveness of the 2-dose vaccination schedule has improved understanding of the condition.
 
“Further reduction in the number of varicella cases will provide states with increased opportunities for enhancing varicella surveillance and improving completeness of reporting to monitor impact of the vaccination program,” wrote the authors of the study, which was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
 
The incubation stage of chickenpox is about 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus. Fever is typically the initial symptom, followed by the pruritic vesicular rash. Lesions that form from the rash develop crusts that fall off about 1 to 2 weeks later. Following crusting of these lesions, the patient is no longer contagious. Those who have experienced chickenpox tend to have lifelong immunity against the disease.
 
Complications from chickenpox range from minor to severe and depend on a number of individualized factors, most importantly the patient’s health status prior to the development of the condition. Chickenpox complications include meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis, secondary bacterial skin infection, and death. Pregnant women who contract chickenpox during pregnancy can also place the unborn fetus at risk for congenital varicella syndrome, a condition known to cause birth defects. Congenital varicella syndrome also has a 30% mortality rate.
 
For otherwise healthy children who develop chickenpox, symptomatic management of the condition is standard. Medications that may ease symptoms include antihistamines and acetaminophen. To discourage scratching of the lesions while assisting in reducing the development of secondary skin infections, trimming the child’s fingernails is important. Additionally, infected individuals should avoid contact with unvaccinated children to prevent transmission.
 
Although chickenpox tends to be more severe for infants, adults, and individuals with compromised immune systems, children are still the prime recipients of the chickenpox vaccine. Even though this disease has been reduced, infection with herpes zoster virus still affects around 1 in 3 individuals. For children who are relatively healthy, chickenpox is a mild disease.


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