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Why Adults Should Consider Getting a Chicken Pox Vaccine

Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection caused by the varicella zoster virus. It causes an itchy, blistery rash that appears first on the face, scalp, trunk and then spreads to the rest of the body. While chickenpox is usually considered a childhood illness, it can also affect adolescents and adults and lead to serious complications. Getting vaccinated against chickenpox can help prevent infection and is an important consideration for adults.

Why Adults Should Consider Getting a Chicken Pox Vaccine

How is Chickenpox Spread?

Chickenpox is highly contagious and spreads easily from infected persons through the air when they cough or sneeze. The virus can also spread through contact with the blisters or by sharing items like clothing or bedding with someone who has chickenpox. The incubation period for chickenpox is between 10-21 days. This means you can catch chickenpox from someone before they even know they have it. People with chickenpox are contagious 2 days before their rash appears until all blisters have formed scabs.

What are the Risks of Chickenpox in Adults?

While chickenpox illness in children is usually mild, the risks of severe infection increase significantly with age. Adults who get chickenpox tend to have much more extreme symptoms and face higher rates of complications such as:

  • Pneumonia - inflammation of the lungs

  • Encephalitis - inflammation of the brain

  • Bleeding problems

  • Skin infections

  • Dehydration

Adults are 25 times more likely to be hospitalised with complications from chickenpox than children. Pregnant women face additional risks. Chickenpox early in pregnancy can lead to birth defects, while infection late in pregnancy can cause life-threatening illness in the newborn.

Why Aren't Adults in Britain Routinely Vaccinated Against Chickenpox?

In the UK, the chickenpox vaccine is only offered as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule if there is a clinical need. It is not given universally. The rationale is that because chickenpox rarely causes serious illness in children, mass vaccination would simply shift the disease burden from young kids to adolescents and adults when the risks are higher. The aim has been to maintain high levels of chickenpox during childhood.

However, many experts argue that not vaccinating also leaves adolescents and adults vulnerable to the more severe effects of the illness. Routine vaccination of children has reduced chickenpox cases by over 90% in countries like the US. With less natural chickenpox exposure, people are now reaching adulthood without immunity against the virus. This pattern will likely emerge in Britain as well over time.

Should Adults Consider Getting Vaccinated?

The chicken pox vaccine for adults can help reduce the risks of infection. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all healthy adults without evidence of immunity get two doses of the vaccine at least 4 weeks apart. Guidelines state the vaccine should particularly be given to:

  • Women of childbearing age

  • Healthcare workers

  • University students

  • Teachers

  • Childcare staff

  • International travellers

  • Household contacts of immunocompromised individuals

Talk to your doctor about whether the chickenpox vaccine is right for you based on your risk factors and vaccination history. Getting vaccinated minimises your chances of contracting and spreading this highly infectious illness. 

While often viewed as a childhood illness, chickenpox can lead to dangerous complications like pneumonia and encephalitis in adolescents and adults. Vaccination is the best way to acquire immunity and avoid infection. With chickenpox exposure becoming less likely in Britain, adults are now more vulnerable to catching the illness later in life when risks are greater. Talk to your Pharmacist about getting vaccinated against varicella to stay healthy.

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