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News

Chickenpox vaccine could save children's lives and prevent shingles in later life

Society For General Microbiology : 09 April, 2003  (New Product)
British children's lives might be saved by being routinely vaccinated for chickenpox, according to Dr Anne Gershon, speaking at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Meeting in Edinburgh today.
'At the moment British children are not given routine vaccinations. In the USA and Canada one dose against chickenpox is given to children under 13 years old, and two doses are given to older children and adults, which appears to significantly cut down outbreaks of the disease,' says Dr Anne Gershon of Columbia University, New York.

'Many people mistakenly think that chickenpox and shingles, which are caused by the same herpes virus, are relatively mild diseases so there is no real need for a vaccine. In reality chickenpox can kill children, and shingles is often severe in elderly patients,' says Dr Gershon. 'The vaccine is extremely safe and provides complete protection in 90 % of cases, and reduces the severity of the illness in most of the others, according to our studies.'

Over 25 million Americans have been given the chickenpox vaccine since its development in the 1970s, although it has only been commonly used since the 1990s. Now over 75 % of young US children receive the vaccine, cutting down the outbreaks of this highly infectious disease which causes itching and blistery skin, headaches and fever.

Although the illness is usually mild in children it can be serious in adults, causing pain and breathing difficulties if it spreads to the lungs varicella may be fatal. One attack gives immunity from further infection for life, but the disease lies dormant in nerve cells and can erupt painfully again later as shingles. These later re-occurrences, usually after the age of 50, attack nerve cells in the face, body, arms and legs.

For people with less resistance, such as elderly patients receiving cancer treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy, both shingles and chickenpox can be fatal, with complications including blood poisoning and pneumonia.
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