Chicken pox poses greater risk to adults

Darci Marchese,

WASHINGTON – When Barbara Walters came down with chicken pox earlier this month, it served as a reminder that adults can contract the virus and suffer more severe cases.

“Most people don’t realize how serious chicken pox can be,” says Stephanie Bialek, medical epidemiologist with the Division of Viral Diseases, for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Adults are much more likely to have severe disease if they do get chicken pox,” adds Bialek.

Adults are six times more likely to be hospitalized for chicken pox. Bialek says adults are also two times more likely to have more than 500 spots.

“People (adults) can have more spots and dots, they can have skin infections, they can have the virus affect their brain and cause encephalitis,” says Bialek.

And in rare cases, chicken pox can be deadly.

Bialek says medical experts aren’t exactly sure why adults tend to suffer more extreme cases compared to children, except that they may have a weakened immune system.

The chicken pox vaccine wasn’t recommended for children until 1995, so people born before then may not have been vaccinated.

Bialek says people can only get the vaccine if they haven’t had chicken pox. If people are unsure, a blood test can determine whether they ever had the virus.

Both children and adults should receive two doses of the vaccine for full effectiveness.

Bialek says the vaccine provides better than 90 percent protection against severe cases of chicken pox.

For more CDC recommendations about the chicken pox vaccine click here.

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(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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