Chickenpox vaccine protects adults from serious illness

NEW ORLEANS, Sep 07 (Reuters Health) - While the varicella vaccine is recommended to protect children against the discomfort of childhood chickenpox, the vaccine may also protect adults against serious illnesses that might result from infection with the virus, a researcher announced here Thursday at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He advised vaccination for all adults who have not had chickenpox.

Although chickenpox usually causes a mild disease, in some cases it can lead to serious complications such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or pneumonia.

"Older people...are more susceptible to complications of chickenpox," according to Dr. Krow Ampofo, from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. "Yet individuals in this group are less likely to be vaccinated than children."

Ampofo and colleagues studied 461 adults who had been vaccinated against chickenpox to see how well the vaccine protected them against the virus.

Overall, 9% of the vaccinated adults developed chickenpox during the study, which followed some of the participants for 8 years or more. Of 85 study participants who came into contact with the virus through household exposure after being vaccinated, 18 developed the disease.

Chickenpox is highly contagious and 90% of unvaccinated people will catch the disease when exposed to an infected person.

"Among those who did contract chickenpox, the disease was generally mild," Ampofo said in a statement. No serious adverse events were seen as a result of the vaccine.

"The varicella vaccine is highly efficacious in protecting adults from serious disease," the researchers conclude.

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