Painful memories of mumps and chickenpox

Doctor talking with momIt’s World Immunization Week, a time to remember why pregnant women need certain vaccines, and why we vaccinate our kids.

I remember having mumps when I was four years old. My jaw swelled up and was so painful that I could not eat – even drinking was difficult. I remember crying from the pain and not having anything to relieve it.

Shortly after getting mumps, I remember having a bad case of chickenpox. The itchy rash drove me crazy. I scratched the fluid filled blisters on my skin until they bled (despite my parents telling me not to do so), and had scars on my skin for years.

When my kids were very young, they both had chickenpox – it was a month before the vaccine became available. They were miserable. Several years later, my daughter also had shingles. (After you have chicken pox, the virus remains “dormant” in your body. Shingles develops when the chickenpox virus “awakens.” It is a very painful condition which can linger for weeks.)

Complications can be serious

Nowadays, mumps and chickenpox are seen less and less in the United States due to vaccines. In fact, most parents who are vaccinating their children have never been sick with these diseases, making it easy to forget how serious they can be. They cause pain, discomfort, and in severe cases disability and even death.

In some cases, mumps may lead to inflammation of the testes, ovaries, brain (encephalitis), tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), and even deafness.

Chickenpox can be especially serious for babies, pregnant women, adolescents, adults, and people with weakened immune systems. It can be harmful to your unborn baby or newborn if you get it during pregnancy (also called congenital varicella).

Pre vs post vaccine stats

According to the CDC, “Before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, about 186,000 cases were reported each year. Since the pre-vaccine era, there has been a more than 99% decrease in mumps cases.” In 2015, there were only 1,057 cases of mumps in the U.S.

Likewise, chickenpox used to be very common in the U.S. before the vaccine became available in 1995. The CDC notes that in the early 1990’s, an average of 4 million people got chickenpox, 10,500 to 13,000 were hospitalized and 100 to 150 died each year. Most of the severe complications and deaths from chickenpox occurred in people who were previously healthy.

The CDC estimates that each year in the U.S., more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented by the vaccine. The vaccine may not prevent all cases of chickenpox, but it is very effective at preventing the severe ones.

What can you do?

The best way to reduce the chance of you or your baby getting sick with mumps or chickenpox is to receive these and other vaccines before pregnancy.

Then, when your child is born, follow the immunization schedule to be sure he’s protected.

Have questions about vaccinating against chickenpox? See the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP’s) FAQs.

Not sure if/when you or your child should be vaccinated against mumps? See the AAP’s explainations.

Bottom line

There is so much we can’t control in life. But thankfully, getting mumps and chickenpox is something we can usually prevent through vaccinations.

 

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