Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It mostly occurs in children but can affect adults who have never experienced it as a child. Chickenpox is one of the oldest recorded childhood conditions. It can begin with a fever but it always ends up with contagious red bumpy rashes that spread from head to toe. Everyone knows that look.
For about a week, your child is covered in blister-like bumps that are red, itchy and painful. It can be a parent’s worst nightmare, especially if they have more than one child.
About ten or so years ago, doctors introduced a new vaccine for chickenpox – the varicella vaccine. Parents have had conflicting views of this development and are puzzled by what to do about it. Should they give it to their kids or allow nature to take its course?
Both Sides of the Argument
For hundreds or thousands of years, children have lived through chickenpox. When the body encounters childhood diseases like chickenpox or mumps and measles, it builds up immunity. Antibodies are produced as a result of the body fighting the invading antigen. A high level of these antibodies in the body (titer) can ward off future incidents of the condition from occurring.
In the past, if one child was exposed to the virus, parents would expose all of their children. This was done for two reasons. One, it almost guaranteed that the healthy child would contract the disease in childhood. Secondly, if all of the children had it at the same time then only one week of work was lost.
Nowadays, there are vaccines available that had not been invented all those years ago. Children can avoid the pain of many conditions with a vaccination. Parents are opting for this method to keep their children healthier than previous generations.
Here’s the rub, though. Because the vaccine is new, there is a lack of data as to its efficacy. No one is sure how long the immunity will last.
The problem here is shingles. It is an adult form of chickenpox that is quite painful. It can also cause serious problems in those who have never had chickenpox before or in people who have had it but not maintained a high enough titer over the years.
Children not exposed to chickenpox as children have a greater incidence of contracting shingles as adults. For non-immune adults, the varicella vaccine can help lower their risk of catching chickenpox, especially in geriatric people where it can be life threatening.
So, is the vaccine necessary? Many healthcare facilities require it for employees. Parents have a choice when it comes to their children. For them the question is which is better: natural immunity through exposure or vaccination? The jury is still out on this one.