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Chickenpox


Overview :

Before the varicella vaccine (Varivax) was released for use in 1995, nearly all of the four million children born each year in the United States contracted chickenpox, resulting in hospitalization in five of every 1,000 cases and 100 deaths. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (a member of the herpes virus family), which is spread through the air or by direct contact with an infected person. Once someone has been infected with the virus, an incubation period of about 10-21 days passes before symptoms begin. The period during which infected people are able to spread the disease is believed to start one or two days before the rash breaks out and to continue until all the blisters have formed scabs, which usually happens four to 7 days after the rash breaks out but may be longer in adolescents and adults. For this reason, doctors recommend keeping children with chickenpox away from school for about a week. It is not necessary, however, to wait until all the scabs have fallen off.

Chickenpox has been a typical part of growing up for most children in the industrialized world (although this may change if the new varicella vaccine becomes more widely accepted). The disease can strike at any age, but by ages nine or 10 about 80-90% of American children have already been infected. U.S. children living in rural areas and many foreign-born children are less likely to be immune. Because almost every case of chickenpox, no matter how mild, leads to lifelong protection against further attacks, adults account for less than 5% of all cases in the United States. Study results reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that more than 90% of American adults are immune to the chickenpox virus. Adults, however, are much more likely than children to suffer dangerous complications. More than half of all chickenpox deaths occur among adults.




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