Many of us have childhood memories of chickenpox, like lying on the couch, watching cartoons while trying not to itch. It was typically seen as a benign and non-important condition. However, while chickenpox may be a relatively mild illness for most individuals, it can have severe consequences for others.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is part of the herpes family. It spreads easily through the air, making it one of the most contagious infections known, with a spread rate exceeding 90%. Symptoms usually appear 10-21 days after exposure, starting with cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose and cough. A rash then develops, and the infected person becomes contagious until the lesions crust over.
Fortunately, most people who have had chickenpox develop lifelong immunity, including children under one year old. As a result, vaccination is not necessary once an individual has recovered from the illness. However, many people are unaware that there is a vaccine available to prevent chickenpox.
The chickenpox vaccine, known as a “live-attenuated vaccine,” uses a weakened strain of the varicella virus. While it is not strong enough to cause infection, it closely resembles the natural strain, allowing the immune system to recognize and fight the virus effectively. This vaccine provides up to 98% immunity in children and teenagers, as well as 75% protection in adults.
It is essential to understand that while chickenpox may seem like a common childhood ailment, it can lead to serious complications. In some cases, chickenpox can cause permanent scarring, and in rare instances, it may lead to meningitis or inflammation of the brain, which can result in stroke, disability, or even death.
Considering the potential risks and the discomfort it can cause, vaccination against chickenpox is highly recommended. Many countries, including Germany, the US, Canada, and Australia, have already included the varicella vaccine in their childhood immunization schedules.
Ireland currently does not include the varicella vaccine in its routine immunization program, primarily due to its cost. The two-shot vaccine can cost approximately €200 per child, making it prohibitively expensive for many families. However, advocating for the addition of the varicella vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule could help protect children from this preventable disease and its potential complications.
Q: Is chickenpox a severe illness?
A: While chickenpox is often mild, it can cause serious complications such as scarring, meningitis, and even death.
Q: Can you develop lifelong immunity to chickenpox?
A: Yes, most people who have had chickenpox develop lifelong immunity.
Q: Is there a vaccine available for chickenpox?
A: Yes, the chickenpox vaccine is a live-attenuated vaccine that provides high levels of protection against the virus.
Q: Why is the varicella vaccine not included in Ireland’s routine immunization schedule?
A: The high cost of the vaccine (approximately €200 for two shots) is one of the barriers to including it in the schedule.