Dr Laura Lenihan
GP, Dr Laura Clinic
A simple vaccination could protect children and adults from chickenpox, a potentially serious disease – but many parents don’t know.
Chickenpox is seen as just a rite of passage for Ireland’s children – yet it is a potentially serious disease.
Galway GP Dr Laura Lenihan says: “Chickenpox is extremely contagious. For most children it is not serious but there can be complications, including bacterial infections, pneumonia, encephalitis and strokes.”
Catching chickenpox increases the likelihood of later developing shingles – a very painful rash. Adults who catch chickenpox are usually more seriously affected. While the fatality rate among children aged one to 14 in Ireland is 1/100,000 cases, among 30–49-year-olds it is 25.2/100,000. In 2017, 105 people were hospitalised with chickenpox.
Tackling the spread
Children with chickenpox should be kept away from school or childcare, so a parent or carer will have to look after them. Dr Lenihan adds: “It is highly contagious especially before the blisters appear, so it’s easily passed on to the whole family before being recognised.”
Early symptoms can include a high fever, coughs, sneezing, aches and pains and loss of appetite. Crops of three to four itchy blisters start appearing after about 48 hours, often on the abdomen, before spreading across the body. The child is infectious from one to two days before the rash appears until after the blisters have all crusted over.
Infected children should be kept away from babies, people with serious health conditions and pregnant women who have not had chickenpox, as catching it can lead to problems for mother and foetus. “Women intending to get pregnant can take a blood test to check immunity and if necessary, get vaccinated,” says Dr Lenihan.
Early symptoms can include a high fever, coughs, sneezing, aches and pains and loss of appetite. Crops of three to four itchy blisters start appearing after about 48 hours, often on the abdomen, before spreading across the body.
Vaccination is available
There is no herd immunity to chickenpox in Ireland, and spotting early infection is hard, so the best prevention is vaccination, says Dr Lenihan – yet many parents do not realise that there is a vaccine. This is partly because chickenpox jabs are currently not part of Ireland’s childhood vaccination schedule. However, you can pay to get a vaccine from your GP.
Dr Lenihan advises: “It is best done at about 14 months, after the second set of nationally-recommended vaccinations.” She does not recommend sending children to ‘chickenpox parties’”.
She says: “As a GP I have seen some complex cases of chickenpox, including a young baby with chickenpox in the genital area. She was in so much pain. Having seen what chickenpox can do, I vaccinated my own two daughters that are eligible.”