WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Prevention of disease is the main goal of primary care medicine, and keeping patients healthy and free of major illnesses is the objective of any physician. One of the main ways to accomplish this goal is with vaccinations.
The varicella vaccine is given to prevent chickenpox – a highly contagious viral infection caused by the varicellazoster virus. The vaccine has been invaluable in decreasing the incidence of childhood chickenpox.
As of 2007, childhood deaths from chickenpox had been cut by 97 percent. Prior to the introduction of the vaccine in 1995, 50 children in the U.S. died each year and thousands more were hospitalized.
Knowing that the vaccine is made up of “live-attenuated virus” sometimes causes people to worry that they could catch chickenpox from being vaccinated. A varicella-like rash may develop in 1-6 percent of people following vaccination, but the more common reaction is fever and pain, redness or swelling at the site of injection.
Except for individuals who have some sort of immune deficiency or are allergic to the vaccine, its benefits far outweigh the risks for the overwhelming majority of people.
It is also important for adults to get the vaccine and booster. This is especially true for people who had chickenpox in childhood but show no immunity to it in adulthood.
Chickenpox can be transmitted either by directly touching the fluid in a lesion on someone’s skin or by breathing in the secretions from an infected person’s nose. After exposure to the virus, it takes approximately 10-21 days before the initial signs of infection, which include fever, fatigue, sore throat and loss of appetite.
The rash develops approximately 24 hours after these symptoms appear and presents itself in “crops,” typically on the face, trunk, arms and legs.
Because new lesions develop each day for approximately four days, both fluid-filled lesions and scabbed lesions may be present at the same time. Approximately six days after the initial signs and symptoms, all the lesions will scab over and will no longer be infectious
Severe complications from the virus include secondary bacterial skin infections, pneumonia and encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain. The primary method for preventing the most serious aspects of chickenpox is through vaccination. The vaccine is 86 percent effective in preventing severe complications.
Prior to the implementation of the varicella vaccine in 1995, the natural course of chickenpox immunity a person got chickenpox as a child and developed immunity. Then, in adulthood, he or she was exposed to young children with chickenpox, and that provided your immunity with a boost. Through this process, you developed a lifelong immunity to chickenpox.
However, now that children are being vaccinated, adults are no longer being re-exposed to chickenpox, so the boost does not occur.
Jillian Elliott, MD, is an internal medicine physician and a member of Phelps Medical Associates. Board certified in internal medicine, Dr. Elliott received her medical degree from New York Medical College and completed a residency in internal medicine at Montefiore Medical Center. She sees patients on the Phelps campus in suite 417 of the 755 North Broadway Building (914-366-5490).