sarahkeenihan

Day 267. Chicken pox, what’s the biggie?

In May 2013 on May 7, 2013 at 9:36 am

chicken

Chicken pox, what’s the big deal?

It’s only a skin condition, isn’t it? Do we really need an immunisation program? Does it even work?

Most of us are familiar with chicken pox – caused by the varicella virus –  as an annoying itchy rash which lasts for a couple of weeks.

For some children however, especially those whose immune systems are struggling due to congenital conditions or treatments such as chemotherapy, chicken pox can be a serious and debilitating illness with lifelong effects. Even as recently as 10 years ago, as many as 16 Australian children died per year as a result of varicella infection.

The Australian government introduced immunisation against varicella as part of its National Immunisation Program in 2006. A recent study conducted by Adelaide-based doctor Helen Marshall and her colleagues across Australia shows that the program has been very effective in reducing severe illness and deaths in children.

Here’s a science story I wrote for The Robinson Institute based on Helen’s publication.

[image thanks to normanack on flickr]

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  1. In 1995 in my final year of my specialist training I recall a patient from the bone marrow transplant ward who died of Varicella infection. A family member had been exposed to some children, been infected and then transmitted the infection to this immunocompromised patient.

    In an age when so many people have their immune systems compromised deliberately or because of an immunosuppressive disease, this once relatively low-harm childhood disease can kill people in a very painful and agonising way. I’ve seen a patient or two with Varicella pneumonia and encephalitis. These patients were critically ill.

    Immunisation in the context of population protection makes so much sense. It seems negligent not to immunise.

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