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September 22, 2020 04:00am
By Sallie Rafie, PharmD and Whitney Russell, PharmD student
A young patient, aged 11 months, suffered a stroke after being infected with chickenpox, likely from unvaccinated siblings.
The varicella zoster virus (VZV), more commonly known as chickenpox, is notorious for covering the body in itchy red bumps and being highly contagious, particularly among children. Although rare today, due to vaccination, chickenpox has the potential to do much more damage than parents may think if children are exposed.1
Vaccination is crucial in preventing children from getting chickenpox and suffering from related complications, and for protecting children who cannot be vaccinated from becoming infected. Recently, an infant aged 11 months suffered a stroke 2 to 3 months after being infected with the varicella zoster virus, which was likely passed from older, unvaccinated siblings who developed chickenpox around the same time. The event emphasizes the importance in vaccinating children, according to a report published byJournal of Pediatrics.1
Children cannot be vaccinated for chickenpox until they are at least 12 months old, resulting in a higher risk of infection and complication among younger infants. It is therefore important to ensure children around those who are more vulnerable, particularly siblings, are vaccinated to prevent spreading the infection, according to the report.
Before the vaccine existed, chickenpox resulted in more than 10,000 hospitalizations per year, with more than 100 child deaths, according to the CDC.2While the viral infection has been rare in the 2 decades following the vaccine’s discovery, there have been recent outbreaks around the nation from parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated. These parents may believe that chickenpox infection is unlikely, or that the children will just tough out the blister-like rash, according to the report.1
“The risks associated with vaccines are very, very, very small,” said pediatric epidemiologist Aaron Milestone, MD, in an interview withToday. “But the anti-vaccine community is very loud, especially on social media. They generate a lot of anxiety in those who have not seen the horrors of preventable diseases.”
Some of these preventable illnesses include meningitis, encephalitis, pneumonia, and severe dehydration among patients. Stroke is another major complication associated with chickenpox, as blood vessels in the brain can become inflamed and scarred from the infection, preventing blood flow to the brain. Chickenpox-related stroked can affect children more than 6 months after the initial infection, and can potentially lead to further complications, including seizure disorders and paralysis, according to the report.1
The infant who suffered a stroke in this case returned home after spending 10 days in the hospital receiving treatment. While the function of his right side is improving, he appears to have progressive arteriopathy, which may lead to neurological damage and consecutive strokes.3
While strokes and other serious complications are rare, the CDC encourages all children to be vaccinated in order to prevent the occurrence of similar situations. The chickenpox vaccine is safe for children older than 12 months, with no serious side effects. Children should receive 2 doses of the vaccine, at least 3 months apart, to maximize immunization and prevent development of the infection and spreading it to more vulnerable people, according to the CDC.2
“We don’t drink and drive not just because we don’t want to hit a tree with out car, but because we don’t want to kill anybody,” said pediatric otolaryngologist, Nina Shapiro, MD, toToday. “It’s a public health decision, as is getting vaccinated.”