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Can the Chickenpox Vaccine Cause Meningitis?

Why do some folks think that the chickenpox vaccine can cause meningitis?

Because they are misrepresenting a case report about two vaccinated teens who later developed shingles and meningitis, with a vaccine strain of chickenpox.

Can the Chickenpox Vaccine Cause Meningitis?

While that does sound like the chickenpox vaccine caused them to have meningitis, since it was a vaccine strain, it is very important to keep in mind that a natural chickenpox infection can do the exact same thing.

“Like wild-type virus, vOka can establish latency in sensory ganglia after immunization and may reactivate, leading to HZ.”

Harrington et al on Vaccine Oka Varicella Meningitis in Two Adolescents

Anyway, as can happen after a natural chickenpox infection, these two vaccinated teens developed shingles (HZ or herpes zoster).

“vOka varicella rarely results in meningitis, which is thought to occur after reactivation in a proximal dorsal root ganglion with spread to the central nervous system.”

Harrington et al on Vaccine Oka Varicella Meningitis in Two Adolescents

Unfortunately, whether the reactivation occurs after getting the chickenpox vaccine or a natural chickenpox infection, it can cause meningitis, as it did with these two teens.

So why get vaccinated?

In addition to avoiding chickenpox and its complications, getting vaccinated and protected with the chickenpox vaccine lowers your risk of later developing shingles.

“Viral meningitis accounts for approximately 26,000 to 42,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States, affecting mainly infants younger than one year, children 5–10 years of age, and the immunocompromised. Varicella Zoster virus is responsible for about 11% of those cases. Varicella can infrequently lead to Encephalitis resulting in seizures and coma (estimated 1.8 per 10,000). Other rare but serious complications of VZV include transverse myelitis, guillain-barré syndrome, thrombocytopenia, hemorrhagic varicella, purpura fulminans, glomerulonephritis, myocarditis, arthritis, and hepatitis.”

Gnoni et al on Varicella Zoster aseptic meningitis: Report of an atypical case in an immunocompetent patient treated with oral valacyclovir

And if you don’t get shingles, you shouldn’t get meningitis!

“To the best of our knowledge, these are the first cases of vOka meningitis described in adolescent patients who received 2 doses of varicella vaccine.”

Harrington et al on Vaccine Oka Varicella Meningitis in Two Adolescents

Although these teens were vaccinated, there are even more case reports of unvaccinated children and adults developing chickenpox (varicella zoster) meningitis and shingles (herpes zoster) meningitis.

That’s one of the reasons that these are life-threatening diseases that most of us try to avoid by getting vaccinated and protected!

As much as anti-vax folks are sharing this case report, it isn’t a good reason to skip or delay your child’s chickenpox vaccines. In fact, not getting vaccinated will almost certainly raise your child’s risk of developing chickenpox meningitis, from the natural strain.

More On Meningitis After the Chickenpox Vaccine

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