It may sound ridiculous now, but up until the mid-1990s, “pox parties” were a routine part of many children’s lives. The idea of a “pox party,” where parents would bring their children to play with a child who had contracted chickenpox, was to expose children to chickenpox at a young age.
Chickenpox is typically more mild in children than adults, and the parties were meant to help children get it early, when it’s milder, rather than get it later, when it might be more severe.
What changed after the mid-1990s? The chickenpox vaccine came out in 1995. Now, instead of intentionally exposing their children to the virus, parents are able to immunize their children against infection, saving them from sickness now and down the road.
In this blog, Nicolette Marak, MD, of Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics in Hoover, Alabama, discusses what chickenpox is, how it can affect someone, and how the chickenpox vaccine can help keep your child safe.
Basics of chickenpox
Chickenpox is an infection of the varicella-zoster virus, and it’s very contagious. In fact, 90% of unvaccinated people who get in close contact with someone who has an infection will also become infected.
The most obvious symptom of chickenpox is the itchy blister-like rash that starts in the chest, back, and face before moving to the rest of the body. In some cases, those with chickenpox can have up to 500 blisters. Other symptoms, which often occur before the pox appear, can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach ache
- Tiredness and general feeling of being unwell
The blisters typically start as bumps. The blisters eventually pop and become crusts and scabs that can take days to heal. A person with the infection remains contagious until all broken blisters have crusted and scabbed over.
Complications of chickenpox
Chickenpox complications are rare but can occur in some cases. From a pediatric standpoint, newborns and infants whose mothers never had the vaccine are susceptible to complications should they get chickenpox before being vaccinated.
Additionally, adolescents who are unvaccinated and unvaccinated pregnant women who have not had chickenpox in the past may suffer complications from an infection. Complications can include:
- Inflammation of the brain
- Toxic shock syndrome
- Reye’s syndrome (swelling in the liver and brain)
The most well-known complication from chickenpox is shingles. Even after a person has healed from chickenpox, the virus stays in their nerve cells for years. The virus can “wake up” decades later and appears as blisters and nerve pain. Children who are vaccinated from chickenpox do not need to worry about getting shingles later in life.
The chickenpox vaccine
Before the chickenpox vaccine became available, about four million people were infected every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those people, 10,000-13,000 were hospitalized, and around 125 suffered severe and fatal complications.
The good news is that, according to the CDC, more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented by the vaccine annually.
At Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics, we know immunizations are an important part of keeping your child healthy. That’s why we offer the immunization schedule approved by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians.