History of Chickenpox and How the Vaccine Changed Everything 

a little girl with chickenpox

Schools are like little germ factories. Parents out there know this quite well. Children are curious creatures that get into anything, don’t often wash their hands thoroughly, and sneeze and cough on everything around them. Their little bodies are also getting exposed to all kinds of new pathogens as their immune systems are building up.  You might remember your own childhood, and getting those itchy and uncomfortable rashes on your skin that soon turned to scabs. You might remember a number of fun home remedies that your parents had in their tool bag, including oatmeal baths, mittens, chamomile teas, and more.  Getting the chickenpox in the 90s was commonplace and most school-aged children went through the ordeal, watching their face and body fill up with rashes and nasty little scabs. Chickenpox is a virus infection and causes flu-like symptoms. Thanks to advances in medicine, a highly effective vaccine was developed in the 90s. 

What is Chicken Pox and What Are the Major Symptoms? 

Chicken Pox is a disease usually associated with children, but adults can contract the disease as well. In fact, the disease is often more dangerous for adults than it is for children. Before the vaccine in the mid-90s, mostly every child would have their experience with the disease. The virus that causes chickenpox does not have a very well documented history. There is early emergence, however, seen as far as back as the ancient Greeks. It was the Greeks, in fact, called the disease zoster after the word for girdle.

The disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus that belongs to the a-herpes virus family. Also known as VZV, it is present worldwide and is a highly infectious disease and is typically contracted from person-to-person contact. Acute varicella became known as ‘chickenpox.’ After the initial infection, the virus can establish latency in cranial nerve and dorsal root ganglia and may often reactivate years later as herpes roster. It was not until the early 20th century that researchers began to connect the dots and discovered the relationship between the primary phase infection, chickenpox (varicella), and the resurfacing of the latent virus known as shingles (zoster). 

Each person might experience the symptoms differently and they can vary in severity depending on age. The effects can be far more dangerous for adults and people with compromised immune symptoms. The major symptoms and signs include:

  • Fatigue and irritability 
  • Itchy rash all over the body, including trank, face, scalp, under the armpits, and even inside the mouth.
  • The rash begins as bright red spots and progresses to red bumps that become blisters
  • Feeling ill 
  • Loss of appetite 

Most of the rash is contained within the trunk and face, but many people will experience them on their legs and lower body. They usually begin in the face and then spread elsewhere.  These symptoms will usually resolve in about 7 to 10 days. Only in rare cases does varicella lead to more severe diseases and visceral invasion. 

What were some of the complications? 

It was rate but complications did happen from chickenpox and some of these included things like:

  • Secondary bacterial infections
  • Pneumonia (lung infections) 
  • Encephalitis 
  • Cerebellar ataxia 
  • Transverse myelitis 
  • Reye syndrome 

The Development of the Vaccine

In the 1990s, an average of 4 million people got varicella and 10,500 to 13,000 were hospitalized. The vaccine was made available in 1995 and by 2014 91% of children 19-35 months old in the United States had received the vaccine. 

According to the CDC, more than 3.5 million cases of varicella and 9,000 hospitalizations are prevented each year thanks to the chickenpox vaccination. Up to 100 deaths are also prevented thanks to the vaccination. Once the vaccine was developed, there was a rapid and clear decline in the number of cases and hospitalizations. Varicella outbreaks declined 78%  from 147 in 2005 to 33 outbreaks in 2012 based on data from six states. The data clearly show that with more children getting the vaccine, it has reduced significantly the number of cases that happen and are spread through school contact. Varicella out-patient visits declined 93% in 2012.

If your child becomes infected, there are plenty of treatment options that can ensure your child gets through the ordeal successfully. As we mentioned, the symptoms for children are typically milder but can be dangerous if they pass it onto someone of the same household that has not had the disease like a grandparent or parent. 

Get Vaccinated and Protect Your Child Today 

If you are a parent of a young child, making sure you’re following the recommended vaccinations is very important. If you are looking for more information regarding some of the vaccines, Peds on Demand is happy to help! If you think your child is seeing some of the symptoms, bring them in for an evaluation. The diagnosis of varicella can usually be made by identifying the rashes on the skin. 

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