Posts Tagged ‘varicella’

Painful memories of mumps and chickenpox

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

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.

 

How vaccines work

Friday, July 31st, 2015

niam-logoVaccines protect you from diseases that can cause severe illness and even death. Vaccines work with your body’s immune system to help it recognize and fight these infections.

Usually when you are exposed to viruses or bacteria they cause infections that make you sick. To fight this infection, your immune system produces antibodies. These are special disease-fighting cells that attack the virus, destroy it, and make you better. In many cases, once you have made antibodies against a virus, you are then immune to the infection that it causes. This means that you cannot get sick from the same infection. For instance, if you had chickenpox as a child, you are immune to it later in life because your body has produced antibodies against the varicella virus (the virus that causes chickenpox). If you are exposed to the virus again, your antibodies recognize it and destroy it before it makes you sick.

Vaccines work with your body’s natural defenses to help you safely develop immunity to certain diseases. A vaccine uses a small piece of the virus or bacteria that causes the infection. Usually this virus is greatly weakened or it is killed. But it looks enough like the live virus to make your body react and make antibodies to attack the virus in the vaccine. This allows you to become immune to the disease without having to get sick first. For example, after you get the chickenpox vaccine, you will develop antibodies against the varicella virus, but you will not get chickenpox first. This factsheet from the CDC explains the body’s immune response to disease and how vaccines work in much more detail.

There are two main types of vaccines: weakened, live virus or inactivated, killed virus.

Vaccines that use weakened, live viruses include measles, mumps, rubella, rotavirus, flu mist, and chickenpox (varicella). Natural viruses reproduce thousands of times when they infect an individual. But weakened viruses can only reproduce about 20 times. This is not enough to make you sick, so they can’t cause disease. But even a few copies of the virus will cause your immune system to react and to make antibodies against the disease. The advantage of live, weakened vaccines is that typically you only need one or two doses (or shots) to provide immunity. However, live, weakened vaccines cannot be given to people with immune systems that don’t work as well as they should, because even such a small amount of virus could make them sick.

Vaccines that use inactivated or killed viruses include polio, hepatitis A, and the flu shot. The inactivated virus cannot reproduce and therefore cannot cause disease. But the immune system still makes antibodies to protect you against disease. The advantages of inactivated viruses are that the vaccine cannot cause the disease at all, and the vaccine can be given to people with weakened immune systems. The limitation of this method is that several doses of the vaccine are required before you are immune to the disease.

August is National Immunization Awareness month. It is important for people of all ages to protect their health with vaccines. In the upcoming weeks, we will be posting more information about vaccines for women who are thinking about getting pregnant, pregnant women, and babies.

Questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Shingles, pregnancy and kids – know the facts

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Many pregnant women have written to us expressing concern about being exposed to a family member who has shingles. Usually it is their parent or grandparent, or another older adult who has the virus. However, did you know that children can get shingles, too?

When my daughter was in fourth grade, she came home from school with a tiny rash on her back about the size of a quarter, and complaining of pain and exhaustion. I had never seen a rash like that before; it was a little clump of tiny bumps. Sure enough, her pediatrician diagnosed it as shingles. I was shocked, as I never associated shingles with kids. Although it isn’t common, it does happen, and the risk of getting singles increases with age. My daughter had a mild case, and after about 2 weeks she was on the mend. She was lucky – it can be very painful and last longer.

What causes shingles?

Shingles (formally known as Herpes Zoster) is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Only someone who has had chickenpox – or, rarely, has gotten the chickenpox vaccine – can get shingles, according to the CDC. The chickenpox virus stays in your body and can re-appear at a later date, often many years later. When it reappears, it does not return as chickenpox – it comes back as shingles.

How common is shingles?

My daughter had chickenpox (the disease) when she was four years old. At that time, the vaccine was not yet available. It is far less common to develop shingles if your child has had the chickenpox vaccine. By vaccinating your child against chickenpox you will decrease her chances of getting shingles later in life.

At least 1 million people a year in the United States get shingles. Shingles is far more common in people 50 years of age and older. It also occurs more in people whose immune systems are weakened because of a disease such as cancer, or drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy.

Can you catch shingles from someone who has shingles?

No, you can’t catch shingles from another person who has shingles. However, a person who has never had chickenpox (or the chickenpox vaccine) could get chickenpox from someone with shingles. However, this is not very common. Shingles is not spread through the air and infection can only occur after direct contact with the rash when it is in the blister-phase. A person with shingles is not contagious before the blisters appear or after they scab over.

If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant…

• First, get a blood test to find out if you’re immune to chickenpox. If you’re not immune, you can get a vaccine. It’s best to wait 1 month after the vaccine before getting pregnant.

• If you’re already pregnant, don’t get the vaccine until after you give birth. In the meantime, avoid contact with anyone who has chickenpox or shingles.

• If you’re not immune to chickenpox and you come into contact with someone who has it, tell your provider right away. Your provider can treat you with medicine that has chickenpox antibodies. It’s important to get treatment within 4 days after you’ve come into contact with chickenpox to help prevent the infection or make it less serious.

• Tell your provider if you come in contact with a person who has shingles. Your provider may want to treat you with an antiviral medication.

What does all this mean for your child?

• If you think your child may have shingles, contact her health care provider. Prompt treatment may shorten the duration and keep pain to a minimum.

• Get your child the chickenpox vaccine to protect her against chickenpox, and so that she has a far less chance of getting shingles in the future.

Learn more about shingles exposure and chickenpox during pregnancy.

 

If you have questions, send them to AskUs@machofdimes.org.

View other posts in the series on Delays and Disabilities: How to get help for your child.

(Reviewed 6/6/17)

 

Chickenpox, vaccinations and Angelina Jolie

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

VaccineAngelina Jolie coming down with chickenpox is a good reminder for all of us to keep our vaccinations up to date! Chickenpox, also called varicella, is caused by a virus. Its symptoms include an itchy rash, blisters and fever. And before the varicella vaccine, people usually got chickenpox during childhood. Now, most kids get the vaccine in the first few years of life.

As a kid, I remember getting chickenpox along with several others in my kindergarten class. And as itchy and uncomfortable as I was, I still didn’t get it as bad as my little sister did years later – in fact, she got it twice, but that’s rare! Come to think of it, my sister was slammed three times by the virus when she got shingles last year. That’s right – the virus that causes chickenpox can also cause shingles later in life.

For most of us who were “lucky” enough to catch chickenpox in childhood, we probably don’t have to worry about getting chickenpox in adulthood, like Mrs. Pitt. But if you’ve never had chickenpox or aren’t sure, talk to your provider about getting the varicella vaccine, especially if you’re thinking about getting pregnant. Having chickenpox during pregnancy may cause some babies to get congenital varicella syndrome, a group of birth defects. Not all vaccinations are safe to get during pregnancy, so it’s best to get the varicella vaccine before getting pregnant.

In the meantime, here’s hoping Angelina has a speedy recovery!

Shingles exposure during pregnancy

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

pregnant-womanEvery so often we get a question from a pregnant woman who is concerned because someone in her family (usually a parent or in-law) has shingles. She is worried that she may be at-risk to develop this as well. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox– the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Once you have had chickenpox, this virus continues to live dormant, inside your body. Sometimes, under conditions of stress or when the immune system is weakened, the virus can be reactivated. When this happens the virus does not cause chickenpox but shingles.

Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles. Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop shingles, including pregnant women and even children. But about half of all cases actually occur among people 60 years old or older. There is now a vaccine available for people over age 60 to prevent shingles.

The varicella zoster virus can only be spread by an affected person to someone who has NOT had chickenpox. If this happens, the exposed person will develop chickenpox—not shingles.  Once you have had chickenpox, antibodies are in your system and you cannot get it again, but you will have the potential to develop shingles.

You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles. You can, however, catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles. If you are not immune to the varicella zoster virus and you are exposed to someone who has shingles there is a very small chance that you could develop chickenpox. Shingles is not spread through the air and infection can only occur after direct contact with the rash when it is in the blister-phase. A person with shingles is not contagious before the blisters appear or after they scab over.

If you have been exposed to someone with shingles, and you have not had chickenpox or the vaccine, make sure you talk to your health care provider. Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.

Remember, if you have had chickenpox, it is possible to develop shingles during pregnancy. If you do develop shingles, make sure you contact your health care provider right away. The most common symptom is a painful rash on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7–10 days and clear up within 2–4 weeks. There is often pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop.

Shingles can be quite painful but treatments with antiviral medications are available. These can lessen the severity and reduce the discomforts. And, for women who do develop shingles during pregnancy, the prognosis is good.

Did you know that children can get shingles, too? See our post on shingles, pregnancy and children for more info.

 

(Updated 6/6/17)

Chickenpox – vaccination works

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Chickenpox, or varicella, is a childhood illness that can pose risks to the fetus if a mother contracts it during pregnancy, especially during her first 20 weeks. Congenital varicella syndrome, though rare, can include defects of muscle and bone, malformed or paralyzed limbs, a smaller-than-normal head, blindness, seizures, intellectual disability. Varicella has lead to death in some children.

Varicella has been preventable by vaccination in the United States since 1995. More than 90 percent of pregnant women are immune to chickenpox because they either had chickenpox before pregnancy or were vaccinated as children. Women who are immune to chickenpox cannot become infected and do not need to be concerned about it during pregnancy.  However, many women do not know whether they had chickenpox in the past or have misplaced their immunization records. Pregnant women should discuss this illness with their health care provider during their first prenatal visit.

Before the vaccine was approved in 1995, about 150 people a year died from the disease and 11,000 were hospitalized, according to Jane Seward of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report from the CDC in the July 25th edition of Pediatrics says that chickenpox is close to being eliminated all together. In studying just mortality rates, “in the last 6 years analyzed, a total of 3 deaths per age range were reported, compared with an annual average of 13 and 16 deaths, respectively, during the prevaccine years.”

An impressive 88% decline in varicella deaths in the first 12 years can be directly attributed to successful implementation of the 1-dose vaccination program. “With the current 2-dose program (in effect since in 2006), there is potential that these most severe outcomes of a vaccine-preventable disease could be eliminated.” Eliminated. No more. Gone. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Separating vaccines may be a good idea for some children

Monday, July 5th, 2010

shotsI have read several articles in papers lately about a Kaiser Permanente study of childhood vaccines. Children receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines in one shot and in 2005 the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine was added to the mix. One of the reasons for this was to lessen the number of needle sticks a child has to receive.

The Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center report indicates that “the four-illness combination vaccine (MMRV) doubles the risk of a fever-related seizure among 1- and 2-year-old children seven to 10 days after the shot.”  The risk of febrile (fever-related) seizure is low, and the CDC has preferred to combine the shots, but they suggest separating them for children at higher risk of febrile seizures.

If your child has had a febrile seizure in the past, or if he has an immediate family member (a brother, sister, or parent) who has epilepsy or who has had a febrile seizure, the CDC says he should usually be given MMR and varicella vaccines separately (instead of the combined MMRV vaccine) for both his first and second vaccinations. Be sure to tell your child’s doctor if your child has a personal or family history of seizures.