True or False: It’s better to get chicken pox as a child than as an adult.

True or False: It’s better to get chicken pox as a child than as an adult.

10 December 2012

True: Chicken pox (aka varicella) is generally thought of as a mild childhood illness. Its symptoms can include fever, aches and headache a couple of days before the outbreak of the well-known rash that causes itching and often blistering. In children, chicken pox is uncomfortable, but not often dangerous. It is extremely contagious and in times past was considered a childhood rite of passage. Since the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1998, the number of reported cases has gone down dramatically.

When contracted over the age of thirteen, the disease is often much more severe, and can sometimes lead to serious complications such as pneumonia. In rare instances, other conditions such as encephalitis can occur. Before the introduction of the varicella vaccine, skin infections (often due to bacteria entering through the opened blisters) were the most common reason for admission among all age groups, but these are rarely seen nowadays. People with compromised immune systems such as those with HIV, those on chemotherapy or immune-suppressing medication, as well as pregnant women and newborn babies are the most vulnerable to serious complications. 

Any unvaccinated person, whether child or adult, who comes in contact with an infected person can still be vaccinated, as the vaccine may still prevent or at least ease the severity of symptoms if given within the first few days after exposure. However, the vaccine is not approved for pregnant women, people with weakened immunity or people allergic to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin.

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