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Who Dies from Chicken Pox?

Chicken pox is supposed to be a mild disease, right?

A rite of passage for kids?

“My life changed forever on June 30, 1988, when I had to stand by helplessly as an infectious disease claimed the life of my oldest child, Christopher Aaron Chinnes, at the age of 12.”

Rebecca Cole on Chickenpox Claimed the Life of My Son Christopher

Sure, a deadly rite of passage that we had to hope that our kids got through unscathed…

Who Dies from Chicken Pox?

Believe it or not, some folks continue to think that chicken pox was never deadly, even as kids continue to die from this now vaccine-preventable disease.

Remember, the chicken pox vaccine was added to the vaccine schedule way back in 1996, after being licensed in 1995.

Chicken pox can kill quickly.
Chicken pox can kill quickly.

Tragically, there are plenty of stories and case reports that prove them wrong:

  • a previously healthy, unvaccinated 23-month-old boy developed chicken pox and died three weeks later after developing sepsis, possible viral meningoencephalitis, bacterial endocarditis, and heart failure. (1996)
  • a previously healthy, unvaccinated 21-month old developed chicken pox and died four days later because of hemorrhagic complications (1997)
  • an unvaccinated 5-year-old boy with asthma was treated with one dose of prednisone at home for an asthma attack while recovering from chicken pox and died the next day (1997)
  • a healthy, unvaccinated 6-year-old boy developed chicken pox, was hospitalized three days later, and died the next day (1998)
  • an 8-year-old being treated for leukemia developed chicken pox and died two weeks later (1998)
  • an unvaccinated 9-year-old girl was exposed to an unvaccinated children with chicken pox in after-school child care and school, developed chicken pox and died three days later with secondary cellulitis and sepsis. (2002)
  • a previously healthy, unvaccinated 11-year-old girl developed septic shock and died soon after being admitted to a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. (2002)
  • an unvaccinated 12-year-old boy was exposed to an unvaccinated classmate with chickenpox, developed chicken pox two weeks later, was admitted to the hospital after three days because of trouble breathing, and died on his second hospital day after suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest. (2003)
  • an unvaccinated 10-year-old girl developed chicken pox, with worsening 10 days later, including ataxia and mental status changes. After being hospitalized for three days, she began to have seizures  and was declared brain dead the next day. (2004)
  • an unvaccinated 14-month-old girl developed chicken pox and worsened over the next three to five days. She eventually developed septic shock, was treated in an ER, and died within one hour of being transferred to a children’s hospital for further care. (2004)
  • a previously healthy, unvaccinated 15-year-old developed chicken pox, was admitted to the hospital three days later in septic shock, and died three weeks later. (2009)
  • a partially vaccinated 4-year-old girl who was being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was exposed to a cousin with chicken pox and later developed multi-organ failure and died (2012)

Chicken pox has always been a deadly disease.

“In the prevaccine era, approximately 11,000 persons with varicella required hospitalization each year. Hospitalization rates were approximately 2 to 3 per 1,000 cases among healthy children and 8 per 1,000 cases among adults. Death occurred in approximately 1 in 60,000 cases. From 1990 through 1996, an average of 103 deaths from varicella were reported each year. Most deaths occur in immunocompetent children and adults”

Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Although chicken pox is definitely riskier if you are older and have pre-existing medical problems, as you can see from these kids who died, many were otherwise healthy and many were very young.

And almost all were unvaccinated, even though a safe and effective chicken pox vaccine could have prevented these deaths and probably the exposures that led to the deaths of the high risk kids being treated for cancer.

More on Chicken Pox Deaths

6 thoughts on “Who Dies from Chicken Pox?”

  1. Deborah L. Wexler

    Dear Vincent,

    Thank you for reminding people about Rebecca Cole’s story about her son Aaron who died of chickenpox complications.

    I spoke with Rebecca about her son Christopher. She wrote a book about what she went through with his horrific illness followed by his death. The title of her book was “My Little Drummer Boy: A Mothers’ True Story.” At one time we had a video of her posted on our website but I can’t find it now.

    Rebecca in her years after that, worked to get the FDA to provide better labeling for steroid medication — that caution should be exercised when giving steroids to people with viral infections like chickenpox. I think he was given prednisone for his first episode of wheezing. I also think the Rebecca may have served on the FDA’s VRBPAC as the consumer representative but I’m not sure about that.

    Rebecca died in 2007 at age 50.


    Deborah L. Wexler, MD
    Executive Director
    Immunization Action Coalition
    Phone: 651-647-0043 (direct)
    Email: Deborah@immunize.org

    1. yes, i’d like to know as well. i mean, you’ve presented 10 anecdotal cases in the past few decades here, where children might or might not have died from chicken pox. why not present the same stories of alleged damage from vaccines? i guess it’d be difficult to fit hundreds or thousands of cases in one article though.

  2. I second @gary’s comment — I’d like to know too. I would also like to know: how many vaccinated children have died from chickenpox? The vaccine is nowhere near 100% effective. This article is shamefully biased and full of scare tactics, which mars its credibility.

  3. Did you people even read the article? “From 1990 through 1996, an average of 103 deaths from varicella were reported each year….almost all were unvaccinated.” If “hundreds or thousands” of people actually died from the varicella vaccine, as Gary suggests, a lot of people would have noticed. Even a few deaths would have probably attracted attention, if they happened. Feel free to provide such evidence, if you have any. Meanwhile, Dr. Iannelli’s article speaks for itself.

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