Chicken pox is a highly contagious disease and can be easily spread from one person to another. It is a viral infection, caused by varicella – zoster, which is a member of the herpes virus family. It is most commonly seen in children and in those below the age of 15 years. It is usually a mild illness and self limiting. Occasionally complications like encephalitis, pneumonia and skin infections may be seen. Chicken pox vaccine is most commonly known as Varicella vaccine. It is useful to prevent chicken pox infection. It has been seen that those children who have received the vaccine do not suffer from chicken pox or may suffer from a milder form of the disease. Up to 90% of the people who receive this vaccine do not get chicken pox.
Complications of chicken pox are secondary infection of the blisters, encephalitis is one of the serious complications but a rare complication, Reyes syndrome, pneumonia, myocarditis and arthritis are some other complications of chicken pox infection. Cerebellar ataxia may develop during the recovery phase or later. Women who get chicken pox during pregnancy are at a risk for congenital infection of the fetus.
Children are given two doses of the chicken pox vaccine. The first dose is administered to children at 12 months to 18 months of age and again between the ages of 4 years to 6 years of age. People over 13 years of age who have not received the vaccine and have never suffered from chicken pox must get two doses, 4 to 8 weeks apart. The vaccine does not require a booster dose later in life. It is a safe vaccine and is a preventable illness. It airborne infection and is contagious even before the rash appears, hence it is very difficult to avoid an infection following exposure. Hence if a person has not suffered from chicken pox it is advisable to take the varicella vaccination.
Candidates for Varicella vaccination: The following people can receive chicken pox vaccine if they have never suffered from chicken pox:
Health care or day care workers, children, adolescents and adults, travelers, women of childbearing age who are not pregnant – those vaccinated should avoid pregnancy for a period of 1 year following the vaccination, college students and teachers.
Contraindications for vaccination: Women who are pregnant, people suffering from serious debilitating diseases, those on immunosuppressant medications, those who are suffering from HIV and are immunocompromised, those taking high doses of steroids, those on anticancer treatment like chemotherapy etc., those who have received blood transfusion in the recent past and those who have had an allergic reaction to varicella vaccine in the past.
Side effects of chicken pox vaccination: The common side effects one may develop following the vaccination are redness, pain and swelling at the site of the injection. Some may develop an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Some may develop mild flu like symptoms which are usually self limiting. Severe adverse reactions following chicken pox vaccinations are rare.
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