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Chickenpox Vaccine Protects Even Those Who Were Not Immunized

Posted May 2, 2001 8:32 a.m. EDT

— If your kids have been vaccinated against chickenpox, aDuke University Medical Center studyfinds they are protecting children who have not had the vaccination.

The chickenpox or varicella vaccinewas introduced in 1995. Since then, it has prevented almost all severe cases of the disease and more than 80 percent of all chickenpox cases.

"Before children started receiving the vaccine, the center would see as many as 20 cases per year of chickenpox. Sometimes more. Now that children have started to receive the vaccine, two years ago we only had one case. Last year we didn't have any," says Lynn Avery Blankenship of First Presbyterian Day School.

The Duke study looked at over 4,000 children in 11 North Carolina day care centers.

"The varicella immunization rate went up every year to the present level of about 70 percent, and the disease rate has decreased dramatically to be almost vanished in the day care centers," says Dr. Dennis Clements, Duke's chief of pediatrics.

The study also found that because so many children are immunized and are not carrying the disease, children who have not had the vaccination are less likely to get chickenpox.

Rebecca Cole's son Christopher died from the complications associated with chickenpox.

"My perception of chickenpox, given what I had heard, was that it was nothing. They broke out in spots, you know, they were uncomfortable, they itched," she says.

In older children and adults, the disease is far more serious.

"Because of the invasion of the body of bacteria after the varicella disease, particularly in adults, they get pneumonia and then they get a secondary bacterial infection from which they can die," says Clements.

The vaccine is approved for use in healthy children ages 12 months and older.

If you have not be immunized against chickenpox, it is not too late. Adults require a double vaccination, while children get a single dose of the vaccine.

Adults who contract chickenpox are 10 times more likely to have complications with the disease, including pneumonia.