I don’t diagnose Chickenpox often. I’ve seen patients with Chickenpox only a handful of times since I started medical school in 1998. Auspiciously, there simply haven’t been many children to serve as my teachers. Varicella virus causes Chickenpox and there’s a vaccine for that. So, like Smallpox or Polio, I’ve been forced to learn a lot about Chickenpox in textbooks. My strongest professor in the Chickenpox department is my own memory; I had Varicella between the age of 5 and 6 years. It was the one week of my childhood where I remember being really babied– my mom gave me a small gift or craft every day while I was home from school. I got to watch TV on the couch. I must have looked pretty awful…But it wasn’t so bad and I was lucky. I was a healthy 5 year old girl who had a case of chicken pox that was “run of the mill”: lots of spots, lots of itching, a week of fever and feeling crummy. Then poof, I scabbed over and got better. The only remaining trace (besides the virus that may live in my nerves) is the scar on my L forehead. You seen it?
The big trouble with Chickenpox is you can’t predict which child will have a serious complication (a brain infection, an overgrowth of flesh eating bacteria in the sores, or a life-threatening pneumonia).
While I was finishing up college, the Varicella vaccination was introduced into the United States. At that time, over 150 people died every year from Chickenpox and over 11,000 people were hospitalized annually. This created a huge economic toll (from missed work to health care costs).
So my apparent lack of clinical opportunity with Chickenpox reflects reality. A study published this week found that over the last 12 years there has been a 97% reduction in deaths from Chickenpox in children and adolescents younger than 20 years of age. There’s been an 88% reduction of Chickenpox deaths over all (kids plus adults). These are staggering statistics. Read full post »