Whereas parents once feared chickenpox in infants, babies, and toddlers, the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by chickenpox has decreased sharply since the introduction of an effective vaccine. Still, chickenpox remains a potentially fatal disease that parents need to treat with respect. Will most infected kids recover quickly? Absolutely. But, let’s be clear, kids can die of chickenpox, which is a serious disease.
“Before there was a chicken pox vaccine, which was introduced in 1995, every year in this country there would be a few million cases in children under 15,” explains Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “There would be 10,000 hospitalizations and roughly 100 deaths. Of those 100 deaths, 70 would occur in perfectly healthy children.”
How Chicken Pox Can Be Fatal
Those numbers have plummeted since the development and broad deployment of the vaccine. But access to a vaccine hasn’t fundamentally changed the disease itself, which is no less deadly and no less likely to smooth the way for opportunistic bacterial infections that take root in open sores, notably, staphylococcus and streptococcus.
“These cause something called necrotizing fasciitis, which is a severe infection that can cause loss of limbs,” Offit explains. “Chickenpox can also cause pneumonia which can be fatal. The virus can also infect the brain.”
Which is all to say that chicken pox in kids remains dangerous. Up until the 1990s in the United States chickenpox deaths were relatively common. There have not been major medical breakthroughs for a cure since that time. To the contrary, some of the bacteria responsible for the chickenpox deaths now have antibiotic-resistant forms that can cause even greater complications.
Chicken Pox Symptoms and Stages
A child contracting chicken pox places them at unnecessary risk for extreme complications. The disease is extraordinarily unpleasant, leaving sufferers incredibly uncomfortable. Symptoms can include fever resulting in body aches and pains, tiredness, headache, loss of appetite and a full body rash that can spread to sensitive areas like the genitals and the inside of the mouth. Children who have chickenpox should stay out of school for up to 5 days. The disease may be relatively common, but it should be taken seriously. And any parent who voluntarily exposes a child to the disease is attempting to not only hurt that child but put them at risk.
“People say, ‘I had chickenpox and I’m fine,’” Offit remarks. “That’s true because they are still alive. The hundred people who used to die of chickenpox are not around to tell their story.”