Varicella is more commonly known as Chicken Pox. It is generally considered to be a mild disease of children; however, 5% of reported cases occur in people over 20 years of age. Early symptoms may include: aching, irritability, tiredness, fever, and sore throat. An itchy, blister-like rash then appears which can develop into as many as 250-500 sores. The rash may even spread into the mouth or other internal parts of the body. Symptoms appear between 10 and 21 days after infection. Varicella in adults is often more severe and complications are 10 times more likely to occur for adults than children. The complications include pneumonia, bacterial infections and encephalitis (brain infection). Adults are 25 times more likely to die from varicella than children.
The Spread of Varicella
Varicella is highly contagious and spreads easily through the air by infected people when they sneeze or cough. The disease also spreads through contact with an infected person's Varicella sores. People who have never had Varicella can get infected just by being in the same room with someone who has the disease. Varicella is contagious 1-2 days before the rash appears.
People who have had Varicella may develop Shingles later in life. One in five Americans does develop Shingles. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of a viral infection with the same virus that produces Varicella and can be very painful!
At Risk for Varicella
Only people who have never had Varicella or only had a mild case are at risk for catching the disease.
Adults who have never had Varicella should consider vaccination. Because of the risk of complications in childhood cases of Varicella, and the risk of developing Shingles later in life, some parents are choosing to have their children vaccinated. Children under the age of 13 only need one injection. Those over the age of 13 need two injections 4 - 8 weeks apart. Many health care providers require a blood test before immunizing adults for Varicella to see if the vaccine is necessary.
The vaccine has been proven safe and effective. The most common side effects are soreness at the site of injection, fever and/or a rash. In general, the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh the risks.
Student Health Services does not provide the Varicella vaccine, but will provide community referrals.
For additional information, please contact Cindy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.