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    Monday, November 28, 2005

    A Pox on Our House: Chickenpox has descended upon our house. Two nights ago, our youngest son showed me some itchy bumps on his body, which he had scratched. They looked like flea bites, but the next morning he was covered with spots that looked like dew drops on roses. It was obvious he had chickenpox.

    I, like many people, was reluctant to embrace the chickenpox vaccine when it came out. The immunity it confers is less effective than that gained by having a natural case of chickenpox - and it doesn't last as long. I worried that immunized kids would end up catching chickenpox when they were adults - when the disease has much more serious consequences. I especially worried about young women coming down with the disease during pregnancy. Chickenpox is especially dangerous for both mother and unborn child.

    However, of our four children, this child with chickenpox is the one who was vaccinated. By the time he came on the scene, chickenpox as a childhood disease had become uncommon. Before the vaccine, most kids would be exposed to it at some time in their childhood years. Now, it's rare to see a kid with chickenpox. In his case, I worried he'd have no chance to develop immunity if I didn't have him vaccinated.

    So how and why did he get it? For the same reasons I was concerned about giving the vaccine to my older children when it first came out - the vaccine's effectiveness wanes with time. Turns out that two weeks ago, a child in his Cub Scout pack had chickenpox. And now, two weeks later - the incubation time for chickenpox - he's got it.

    The waning effectiveness of the vaccine as time goes on has been well documented - 6% of children had a breathrough infection within six years after being immunized, and others have noted high rates of breakthrough infections five years, two years and even one year after receiving the vaccine. And one report of an outbreak of chickenpox in among vaccinated children in a daycare center in New Hampshire, discovered the vaccine was only 44% effective in preventing the disease.

    So far, the saving grace of the vaccine has been that the cases of breakthrough infections in those who have been vaccinated are milder than natural chickenpox. That is, they have fewer blisters and seem to get better faster. The vaccine, however, has only been in use for ten years. We still don't know what will happen in another eight years when vaccinated children become young adults - or young pregnant adults. If the immunity decreases more with each passing year after immunization, then they could be in trouble.

    To prevent that scenario, a booster dose may become the norm - but so far boosters aren't recommended. When they should be given, and how often, is still something that has yet to be determined.

    For now, I'm hoping my other kids get theirs from their brother.

    posted by Sydney on 11/28/2005 07:26:00 AM 5 comments


    I got chicken pox as a kid ~ 5y/o. I managed to give it to my mom. Somewhere in my travels, I learned that I was not immune to it. But, I forgot that when I was an intern & did a Zenk (sp?) prep on an eruption on an AIDS patient. Natch, I got chicken pox again. I had enough of an outbreak that I'm fairly certain my immune system shan't forget it THIS time. Fortunately, that was ALL I caught from said patient.

    Hope your critter recovers uneventfully.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:07 PM  

    I can vouch for the effects of adult chickenpox, and for kids giving it to their parents. I got it from my daughter (who got it from preschool,) when I was 39.

    With current air travel, wiping out chicken pox is not likely, so it seems much better to get it over with when you're young rather than Benny's age.

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