Chicken pox is a rash that is caused by the virus Varicella Zoster that commonly affects children. Chicken pox outbreaks were common in the past and for children under 10 years old the symptoms were minimal and though complications did occur, it was not common. With the introduction of the chicken pox vaccine, it was expected that outbreaks would be prevented, but that is not always the case.
Several outbreaks have occurred among vaccinated children and adults.
Chicken pox outbreaks have decreased and become less severe since the introduction of the vaccine. For children who are not exposed to “wild” (naturally occurring) chicken pox, the protection may only last 5-8 years. For children who naturally develop immunities to the Varicella Zoster virus (VZV) through exposure to “wild” chicken pox virus, the protection often lasts a lifetime. When outbreaks occur, those who have been immunized may get a booster shot and those who have not been immunized, may choose to be.
The best way to prevent a chicken pox outbreak is for people to be educated on the signs and symptoms of chicken pox. A strong immune system will help prevent an infection. As soon as a chicken pox infection is identified and diagnosed, the infected person should be isolated and preventive measures should be followed to avoid the spread of the virus to others.
Informing those who have come in contact with a person who has chicken pox is important so that if there are symptoms, the person can promptly identify them and stay home until the contagious period has passed. To prevent outbreaks, some schools require students to be vaccinated to be able to attend school. Outbreaks have changed over the years.
Early history shows that chicken pox outbreaks were encouraged. Children who had not had chicken pox were taken to play with children who were infected with the virus and contagious in hopes of the healthy child would acquire the virus when young and symptoms were usually mild.
There are also fewer complications with younger children. The medical community discouraged this practice and the chicken pox vaccine was encouraged. Once there is an outbreak, the vaccine and booster shots are recommended. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people get chicken pox during an outbreak.
Overall, chicken pox outbreaks have been drastically reduced with the introduction of the vaccine. Unfortunately, shingles, which is caused by the same virus, has increased during the same time and it is believed that it is related to the chicken pox vaccine. There is concern that vaccines may not be as safe as advertised and the virus may cause damage to the body and to organs without producing immediate symptoms.
Naturally occurring (wild) chicken pox is introduced to the body more indirectly. The virus naturally comes in contact with mucus membranes first, which triggers the immune system to respond and then moves to the lymph nodes where the immune system fights the virus. The virus in the vaccine bypasses the body’s natural process to fight infection giving it direct access to the blood steam and organs.
The chicken pox vaccine is given a lot of credit for reducing chicken pox outbreaks and complication, but other factors like better hygiene, improved nutrition, and accessible medical care may have also contributed to the reduction.