Nurses, do you have unpleasant memories of getting the chickenpox when you were young? Some of us may remember having an uncomfortable rash, staying home from school for a week, and trying not to scratch the scabs. Some may even remember the oatmeal baths that did not work as promised.
Many nurses were told that "It is a rite of passage" because all of their friends got it—It was just "part of growing up." With chickenpox being as contagious as it it, it was no wonder so many caught it. One child can spread it to another from 1 to 2 days before they get the rash until all their chickenpox blisters have formed scabs (usually 5-7 days).
But, now, our patients don’t have to suffer the way we did, because there’s a vaccine to protect them against chickenpox.
Before the chickenpox vaccine became available in 1995, nearly 11,000 people were hospitalized every year and about 50 children died. The disease can cause serious complications, even in healthy children. These complications include skin infections, lung infections (pneumonia), swelling of the brain, bleeding problems, blood stream infections (sepsis), and dehydration. In Pakistan, 2017 has brought at least 17 deaths from chickenpox, and the year is only half way. Earlier this year, a 6 year old girl died enroute to a London hospital from complications associated with varicella.
“The most important thing to remember is that we cannot predict which child will get a serious case or have complications from the chickenpox,” explained Dr. Stephanie Bialek at the CDC. “The chickenpox vaccine is very safe, and about 90% of kids who get both recommended doses of the chickenpox vaccine are protected against the disease. Therefore, we recommend that children get vaccinated.”
CDC recommends pediatric patients receive the first dose of the chickenpox vaccine at age 12 through 15 months old and the second at age 4 through 6 years. Some children do get the disease even after they are vaccinated, but it’s usually milder. Children who get chickenpox after vaccination typically have fewer red spots or blisters and mild or no fever. The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe disease. If a patient has only received one dose in the past, check to see if they can qualify for a second dose.
Have an adult patient questioning whether they should get the varicella vaccine? All adults who never received the chickenpox vaccine and never had the chickenpox should receive the vaccine. If they are unsure about their vaccine statues, it's recommended by experts that they receive the vaccine. Adults who are at higher risk of exposure should especially consider vaccination. They include healthcare workers, college students, teachers, and daycare workers.
Nurses need to be strong advocates in encouraging patients and families to vaccinate for chickenpox. A strong recommendation can go a long way in preventing unnecessary suffering and even death.
If you have questions about the childhood immunization schedule, you can find more information about vaccines here. Looking for more information about chickenpox? Click here.