Chicken Pox (varicella) is an acute highly infectious disease caused by the varicella zoster (VZ) virus. Once infected with this virus it remains dormant in the root ganglion of the nerves without causing any symptoms – unless reactivated¹
The majority of chickenpox infections occur in infants and young children and a large percentage of the population will have been infected at some stage. However they may not have displayed any characteristic or overt symptoms. It may have been put down to a bad cold or some other viral disease. These patients will have immunity to a more or less extent against varicella disease.
In children the symptoms are usually mild but it can be serious. Young infants and adults, older non immune adults and pregnant women are at particular risk.
Chickenpox vaccine is generally well tolerated, however for more information on the potential side effects and who may or may not consider having the vaccine, please follow the link to the nhs choices – chickenpox. There is a further link on this website to examine more closely the issues concerning immunocompromised patients who may have close contact with vulnerable non-immune patients and also pregnancy.
Although chickenpox vaccine does not form part UK Childhood Vaccination Program, it is offered routinely in the United States. In addition there is worldwide support for varicella vaccination programs and there are many studies establishing the long term cost effectiveness of these programs. Nevertheless last year the UK body responsible decided against a UK universal vaccination program. One of the reasons given is that vaccinating all children could increase the incidence of shingles in later life. However where universal vaccination is established there does not appear to be any strong evidence for this. Another reason is that if all children were vaccinated there would be reduced disease in the community leaving unvaccinated individuals at greater risk of developing the disease in later life.
We are now able to offer chicken pox vaccine treatment to adults and children aged 1 year. The varicella course consist of two doses generally 6 to 8 weeks apart (but not less than 4 weeks)
¹This reactivation described above can be as a result of numerous issues. In essence anything that compromises immune system can be responsible for once dormant virus travelling down from the root ganglia in the spine to the skin. This reactivation at skin/eyes level is the cause of the disease ‘shingles’. The virus is related but slightly different to the chicken pox virus (varicella zoster) and identified as herpes zoster.