(By José R. Romero, MD) – Some 90’s retro trends are fun to see come around again, like classic songs returning to the playlist, hairstyles, and even fun 90s’ shoes. Other trends are better left in the past — like the millions of cases of chickenpox that happened in the United States each year before we had an effective vaccine.
What was once considered a rite of passage, something that just had to be tolerated during childhood with oatmeal baths and missing school, is now unusual. A lot of people might think, ‘Oh, it’s just chickenpox.’ While it’s true that most children recover, doctors and other pediatricians like me frequently saw very serious cases of chickenpox that could turn quickly into invasive disease, pneumonia, or even death. The fact is, chickenpox can be very serious, and it affects not just the person who is sick, but the entire family and community. Because of chickenpox, parents can miss work, brothers and sisters can miss school, and pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems have a higher chance of having serious chickenpox infections.
Once someone is infected with the chickenpox virus, it stays in the body even after the person feels better. Because of this virus, about 1 in 3 people who had chickenpox as children will get shingles, usually later in life. Shingles is a very painful condition that happens when the hidden chickenpox virus becomes active in the body again. It can disrupt daily life for months or even longer.
The United States was the first country to include the chickenpox CDC vaccine in the routine childhood vaccination program, and the vaccine has proven to be very effective. During the first 25 years of the vaccination program (1995 – 2019), we saw a staggering 97% drop in chickenpox hospitalizations and more than a 99% drop in deaths. For young people today, being hospitalized from chickenpox has become a rare event — and chickenpox deaths are nearly eliminated in the U.S.
There’s even more good news — experts anticipate that protection from the chickenpox vaccine will also extend into the future to help protect them as adults against shingles. So kids who are vaccinated now are protected from chickenpox, and most won’t have to worry about suffering from shingles later. If you’re not sure if your kids are caught up on their vaccines, just ask their doctor or nurse — and go ahead and schedule any appointment they might need.
Some trends, like chickenpox disease, should never come back.