Death Due to Chickenpox Increasing




British Medical Journal

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Chickenpox is triggered by the varicella-zoster virus or VZV for short. This same virus is responsible for Shingles. Most individuals acquire chickenpox before adulthood, although adults can also become infected with the virus. Adults and individuals with impaired immune systems who have VZV are prone to greater complications and even a risk of death. Chickenpox is highly contagious and can be spread by direct contract or through the air. Once you have had chickenpox, your chances of contracting it again are slim; your body protects against a second infection. This illness is revealed through an itchy rash that blisters and in about 4 to 5 days and then finally scabs over. The rash may be accompanied by a fever. Approximately 4 million cases occur each year in the United States.1

Since 1995, there has been a Varicella vaccine available in the United States. It has been proven to work for over 10 years in recipients. Some elementary schools around the country require this vaccine before admission. It is not licensed in the United Kingdom, and outbreaks there are increasing. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted a 3-year study on the increase of this disease. In 1995 through 1997, they evaluated death certificates from England and Wales. The certificates reviewed mentioned chickenpox or varicella, along with other information that was obtained by physicians. The results of this investigation indicated that in these particular countries, an average of 25 people per year die from chickenpox. A surprising outcome revealed that a significant number of victims of this illness were not born in either Wales or England. Adults accounted for 81% of the deaths, and twice as many men died than women.2


1. National Center for Infectious Diseases, Center for Disease Control. Varicella-zoster virus. 1999.
2. Rawson H, et al. Deaths from chickenpox in England and Wales 1995-7: analysis of routine mortality data. BMJ. Nov 2001; 323:1091-1093.