CHICKEN POX (Varicella) – While once a common illness of childhood, we now prevent the majority of cases with routine vaccination at 15/18mos and again at age 4/5 years. The symptoms of chicken pox range from a mild to moderate itchy rash and fever to severe consequences including blindness, deafness, meningitis, and severe breathing issues. We vaccinate in order to prevent these severe consequences. “Wild type” varicella is nearly impossible catch naturally in our area and we recommend against “Chicken pox parties” or similar exposure events due to associated risks. People who have had chicken pox as children are at risk for getting shingles once or repeatedly as adults – this is an extremely painful disease and can spread the disease to high risk and unimmunized people including newborns, pregnant women, and people on chemotherapy. Varicella vaccine reduces the risk of shingles as well.
The most troublesome symptoms with Chicken Pox are intense itching and fever. Oral Benadryl can be used for itching, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen are best used for fever control (see Fever Control for dosing). Aspirin must never be given to someone with Chicken Pox as it may lead to very serious complications. Topical drying lotions like Calamine lotion and bathing with Aveeno, oatmeal, or baking soda may also help relieve the itching.
Chicken pox (and shingles) is very contagious starting 2-3 days prior to the first lesion appearing until the last lesions have fully dried and scabbed over. People for whom Varicella represents a serious danger, and exposure therefore needs to be avoided, are newborns (less than a few weeks old), pregnant women who are not immune, and people with compromised immune systems (AIDS, kidney failure, cancer patients on chemotherapy, etc…).
MEASLES – The symptoms of measles are high fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, and a classic red rash. While this may seem no worse than a common cold, there is a significant risk of progression to encephalitis (brain swelling), seizures, deafness, and long term disability. Measles was nearly eradicated in the US earlier in the 21st century due to excellent vaccination, however, this is no longer the case. Due to areas of vaccine refusal and under-vaccination, measles is back as a risk to our children.
Measles can be completely prevented by routine vaccination at 12 months with a booster around age 4/5 years. Our practice policy is to vaccinate against measles in this fashion. For infants who are between 6-12 months who are at high risk due to travel, we offer an “extra” dose of vaccine before age 12 months, and then proceed with the normal vaccine schedule. If you are planning travel outside the USA with an infant, please contact your provider to discuss whether this extra immunization might be appropriate.