MONDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- The varicella vaccine has
nearly wiped out deaths from chickenpox in the United States, a new
The vaccine, introduced in a one-dose form in 1995, has reduced
deaths from chickenpox by 88 percent in all age groups and by 97
percent in young people 20 and under, according to the study from
the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
"This is one of our success stories," said Dr. Charles Shubin, medical director of the Children's Health Center of Mercy FamilyCare in Baltimore, who is familiar with the study.
In 2006, a second dose was added to the vaccination roster, but
the decrease in deaths occurred largely during the time when just
one shot was recommended, the researchers found. While
chickenpox-related deaths are now relatively rare, the new two-dose
regimen may eliminate them altogether, they said.
The double dose will further reduce sick days and medical care
associated with chickenpox and its complications, the study authors
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American
Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians
recommend that children receive two doses of the varicella vaccine.
But in recent years, there has been some pushback from parents
about childhood immunizations -- largely because of unfounded fears
about a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
vaccine. As a result, measles and some other diseases are making
Experts said they hope the findings will reassure anxious
parents and alert them to the life-saving benefits of varicella
Dr. Bruce Hirsch, attending physician for infectious diseases at
North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said the study
provides "powerful information."
Deaths began declining almost immediately after the varicella
vaccine was introduced. "This vaccine has saved about 80 lives per
year," he said.
Dr. Gail Demmler-Harrison, professor of pediatrics-infectious
disease at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, often saw the
children who became seriously ill from chickenpox, some of whom
"We don't see severe varicella anymore," she said. "There is a common misconception that chickenpox is a benign inconvenience of childhood and a rite of passage, but it almost always leaves lasting foot prints and there is a lot of suffering with plain old chickenpox as well as how it [affects] the family," she said.
"The risks of varicella and its complications are real, and the risks of vaccine are minimal," she added.
According to the study, published in the August issue of
Pediatrics, chickenpox led to about 105 deaths a year during the pre-vaccine years of 1990 to 1994. Between 2002 and 2007, the annual average number of chickenpox deaths was the lowest ever reported, with 14 deaths recorded in 2007 and just 13 the year before.
Still unknown is whether the two doses in children is enough to
ward off shingles, which occurs when the virus that causes
chickenpox (varicella-zoster) is reactivated. Individuals who have
had the chickenpox are at risk for shingles, and this risk
increases with advancing age.
"We don't know if immunization in childhood is going to make a difference in adult shingles because it hasn't been long enough," said Shubin, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
"Whether or not the kids who had two shots when they were young need something else when they become older adults, that remains to be seen," he said.
For more information about the varicella vaccine, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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