Childhood Diseases

14 August 2015

Vaccine sharply curbs chickenpox cases in US

A study has found that chickenpox in the US continues to decline as the varicella vaccine programme becomes fully implemented.

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Chickenpox cases in the United States have dropped sharply since a vaccine against the disease became available in 1995, a new study shows.

Second dose recommendation

Also, hospitalisations and outpatient visits for chickenpox have continued to fall since 2006, when a second dose of the vaccine was recommended to boost protection against the disease, the researchers found.

Before 1995, about 4 million people in the United States got chickenpox each year, nearly 11,000 were hospitalised, and up to 150 died of the disease, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read: Chickenpox

For this study, CDC researchers analysed national health insurance claims data. They found there were 93 percent fewer hospitalisations for chickenpox in 2012, and 84 percent fewer outpatient visits for the disease than in the period before the vaccine was introduced.

After the second dose recommendation took effect, hospitalisations dropped 38 percent and outpatient visits declined by 60 percent, according to the study published in the Journal of the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

"We found that, in our study, rates for varicella [chickenpox] in the U.S. continued to decline as the varicella vaccine programme has become fully implemented," study co-author Jessica Leung said in a journal news release.

Herd immunity

"We saw significant declines in rates of varicella after the one-dose vaccine was recommended in 1995 in the U.S., and we're continuing to see additional declines in varicella after two doses were recommended in 2006," she added.

Read: 2nd chickenpox shot advised

The largest decrease in chickenpox occurred among children and teens aged 1 to 19, a group targeted for vaccination against the disease. But there were also significant drops in outpatient visits and hospitalisations among children younger than 12 months – for whom the vaccine is not recommended – and among adults, who tend not to get vaccinated.

These findings suggest the possibility of something called herd immunity.

"The surrounding population that can be vaccinated are not getting sick, and therefore the data suggest that these infants are also being protected," Leung said. "We're seeing that for adults as well."

Chickenpox typically causes a blister-like rash, itching, fever and fatigue.

Read more:

Chickenpox shot provides long-term protection

Chickenpox vaccine shortage in Germany

Childhood vaccinations

Image: Chickenpox from Shutterstock

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Paediatrician

Prof Eugene Weinberg worked in the Paediatrics Department of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital for many years. He is presently a paediatric allergist at the Allergy Diagnostic Unit of the UCT Lung Institute in Mowbray.

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