Tag: chicken pox

Where Are the Latest Chickenpox Outbreaks?

Chicken pox is a now vaccine-preventable disease thanks to the chicken pox vaccine that was first licensed in 1995.

Despite being added to the childhood immunization schedule in 1996, and the addition of a booster dose in 2007, we do continue to see occasional outbreaks of chicken pox.

Chicken Pox

Although chicken pox is said to have been a rite of passage for kids, it was never something that any of us looked forward to.

At best, you had five to seven days of fever and an itchy rash that covered your body.

“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

But of course, some people had much more severe cases of chicken pox and some people died.

Chicken Pox Outbreaks

In the pre-vaccine era, before the mid-1990s, most kids got chicken pox.

And chicken pox parties, while not as common as some folks imagine, were definitely a thing, because you didn’t want your child to become an adult and get chicken pox, when it was more dangerous. But since most kids got chicken pox so easily, most got it when they were kids, even without a chicken pox parties, and tragically, many learned that it wasn’t only dangerous to adults.

Why are we still seeing clusters of chicken pox in schools when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?
Why are we still seeing clusters of chicken pox in schools when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?

These days, most cases and outbreaks of chicken pox are in unvaccinated children and adults.

  • at least 28 cases at Asheville Waldorf School in West Asheville, North Carolina (Nov 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at Daybreak Primary School in Battle Ground in Clark County, Washington, leading to quarantine of at least 38 unvaccinated students who will be kept out of class for at least 21 days (Oct 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at two schools in Ottawa County, Michigan, including Waukazoo Elementary and Kids First – Early Childhood Center in Jenison, leading to the quarantine of at least 34 children (Oct 2018)
  • a cluster of chicken pox cases in Grant County, Washington at Park Orchard Elementary, North Elementary and Longview Elementary schools (Sept 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at the The Little Red School House Too daycare in Westbrook, Maine (May 2016)

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg though, as there are still about 7,000 to 10,000 chickenpox cases reported in the United States each year. And that’s with some states, like Oregon and Washington, not reporting cases of this Nationally Notifiable Condition to the CDC.

Cognitive dissonance helps explain how these folks try to explain that chicken pox isn't dangerous.
Cognitive dissonance helps explain how these folks try to explain that chicken pox isn’t dangerous.

Still, since chicken pox caused a few hundred deaths and at least 10,000 hospitalizations each year less than twenty-five years ago, that’s a lot of progress.

Getting Chicken Pox

How do you get chicken pox?

Since it is very contagious, if your child is exposed to someone with chicken pox or shingles, then they might develop chicken pox in about 10 to 21 days (incubation period).

Of course, if they vaccinated and protected, then they probably won’t, although mild, breakthrough chicken pox infections are still possible in vaccinated kids.

Their risk is higher if they:

  • are unvaccinated, either intentionally, because they have a true medical exemption, or because they are too young for the vaccine, which is first given when kids are 12-months-old
  • are partially vaccinated, with only one dose of the chicken pox vaccine
  • have a problem with their immune system, including kids getting chemotherapy

In addition to being at risk for chicken pox, non-immune pregnant women, newborns born to women who develop chicken pox at around the time of delivery, premature babies, and those are immunocompromised can be at risk for severe disease.

Avoiding Chicken Pox

Want to avoid chicken pox and the chance of ending up in a chicken pox quarantine and having to stay out of school for 3 weeks or more?

Get your kids vaccinated.

That’s not an option for some kids with true medical exemptions though, including most kids who are immunocompromised. When they get caught up in one of these outbreaks and get exposed to chicken pox, it becomes a matter of life and death to work to try and prevent their getting chicken pox.

More on Chicken Pox Outbreaks

 

10 Myths About Chicken Pox and the Chicken Pox Vaccine

You remember chicken pox, don’t you?

Is this really a disease that we need to vaccinate our kids against?

Obviously, the folks who posted the following comments don’t seem to think so.

It is just as obvious that they are wrong though.

That she doesn't understand survivorship bias doesn't mean that you shouldn't vaccinate your kids.
That she doesn’t understand survivorship bias doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t vaccinate your kids.

No one ever says that chicken pox, measles, mumps, and rubella kills everyone that gets them.

Even in the pre-vaccine era, when measles would kill 500 people a year in the United States, there is a very good chance that you wouldn’t have known anyone that died of measles. Of course, that doesn’t mean that nobody died of measles or chicken pox or any other now vaccine-preventable disease.

You likely know someone that plays football, right? Maybe on a youth football team or in middle school or high school? Do you know anyone that plays on a team in the NFL? While millions of kids might play football, only a few thousand play in the NFL.

Benign diseases don't kill kids.
Benign diseases don’t kill kids.

Chicken pox was never a benign disease. It was considered a rite of passage because we all had to endure it, but it wasn’t something anyone looked forward to. You don’t die from a benign disease.

Trying to scare people into thinking that vaccines are poison... Anti-vaccine propaganda is all about fear.
Trying to scare people into thinking that vaccines are poison… Anti-vaccine propaganda is all about fear.

Part of that is actually true – “they keep you a customer for life” because you didn’t die from a vaccine-preventable disease!

The UK doesn't haven't routinely vaccinate against chicken pox, but they do have chicken pox deaths...
The UK doesn’t routinely vaccinate against chicken pox, but they do have chicken pox deaths and the same rise in shingles rates…

Many countries don’t have the chicken pox vaccine on their routine immunization schedule because they don’t think it is cost-effective and they were concerned about what controlling chicken pox could do to rates of shingles.

“About 3 in every 1000 pregnant women in the UK catch chickenpox. Between 1985 and 1998, nine pregnant women died in the UK from chickenpox complications. Their unborn babies are also at risk from a rare condition called foetal varicella syndrome (FVS). This can result in serious long-term damage to the baby or even death, particularly if the mother catches chickenpox in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.”

Vaccine Knowledge Project on Chickenpox (Varicella)

These countries have the same rates of shingles as countries that do use the chicken pox vaccine, but still have high rates of chicken pox and complications of chicken pox!

The UK does not vaccinate for chicken pox, but young, otherwise healthy kids die with chicken pox in the UK.

Don't trust the CDC, but do trust anyone with a website or Facebook page that says what you want to believe.
Don’t trust the CDC, but do trust anyone with a website or Facebook page that says what you want to believe…

Most folks should understand that when anti-vaccine folks say “do your research,” they mean look at their websites and Facebook groups that regurgitate misinformation and anti-vaccine propaganda.

Natural immunity is not better than vaccine induced immunity when you consider the risks of a natural infection, which can include death.
Natural immunity is not better than vaccine induced immunity when you consider the risks of a natural infection, which can include death.

We don’t need disease.

There is no diet that will help you beat chicken pox.
There is no diet that will help you beat chicken pox.

While you will be at higher risk for complications from chicken pox and most other diseases if you have a compromised immune system or are malnourished, if you are otherwise healthy, there is nothing you can do to boost your immune system to try and beat chicken pox – besides getting vaccinated.

Homeopathic vaccines do nothing.
Homeopathic vaccines do nothing.

There is also no homeopathic remedy or homeopathic vaccine that can help you avoid chicken pox.

Adults don't need boosters to most vaccines, so actually are up-to-date and immune to most diseases.
Adults don’t need boosters to most vaccines, so actually are up-to-date and immune to most diseases.

The chicken pox vaccine provides long lasting protection. Ironically, anti-vaccine folks often misunderstand how herd immunity works, the one thing that can protect their unvaccinated kids as they try to hide in the herd

Chicken pox parties were never as common as folks think they were, but when done, it was out of necessity, as we didn't have a vaccine.
Chicken pox parties were never as common as folks think they were, but when done, it was out of necessity, as we didn’t have a vaccine.

Chicken pox parties kind of made sense in the pre-vaccine era. Since it was inevitable that your child would get chicken pox, you wanted them to get it at a young age, so they weren’t at increased risk for complications as an adult.

But intentionally exposing your child to a life-threatening infection when a safe and effective vaccine is available?

Do your research. Get vaccinated and protected.

More on Chicken Pox Myths

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

Believe It or Not, Chicken Pox Parties Are Still a Thing

Do you remember having chicken pox?

Oh boy, I sure do!

I was about six or seven years old and it was bad. Still, I’m not sure if I remember because I had such a bad case or because it made me miss Halloween that year.

It was almost certainly both, as I remember being covered in spots from head to toe.

What I don’t recall is having many visitors. Why didn’t my mom throw me a chicken pox party!

I also don’t remember going to a chicken pox party to get sick.

Believe It or Not, Chicken Pox Parties Are Still a Thing

Whether or not chicken pox parties were ever that popular, the approval of the chicken pox vaccine in 1995 should have put an end to the practice.

After all, why intentionally expose your child to a potentially life-threatening disease, when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?

“Chickenpox (varicella) is generally a much milder illness in children than in adults, with considerably lower rates of severe disease and death. Varicella is also virtually universal in many populations, meaning that very few individuals escape infection over a lifetime. Thus, a sound logic underlies the idea of chickenpox parties, at which susceptible children can acquire the contagious causative pathogen, varicella zoster virus (VZV), from their peers. However, chickenpox is not without risks, even for children of this age; severe, complicated, and occasionally fatal varicella occur in previously healthy children, as well as the immunocompromised (who are at very considerable risk).”

Hambleton et al on Chickenpox Party or Varicella Vaccine?

Most folks understand that. They get their kids vaccinated and have helped get chicken pox under very good control, with outbreaks of chicken pox declining over 95%.

“Each year, more than 3.5 million cases of varicella, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented by varicella vaccination in the United States”

CDC on Monitoring the Impact of Varicella Vaccination

Apparently, not everyone has gotten the message though.

Remember when CPS had to investigate the mom who was having chicken pox parties in Plano, Texas a few years ago?

“On the page, parents post where they live and ask if anyone with a child who has the chicken pox would be willing to send saliva, infected lollipops or clothing through the mail.”

CBS 5 Investigates mail order diseases

Or when anti-vaccine folks were selling and mailing lollipops contaminated with chicken pox to folks so that they could skip the trouble of finding a chicken pox party?

And then there’s that time that a family served chicken pox contaminated punch at their chicken pox party. Oh wait, that was The Simpsons

Chicken pox party - The Simpsons did it.
Chicken pox party – The Simpsons did it in the Milhouse of Sand and Fog episode in Season 17.

So what are they up to now?

Folks are still advertising chicken pox parties in anti-vaccine Facebook groups.
Folks are still advertising chicken pox parties in anti-vaccine Facebook groups.

More of the same…

Does she know that the chicken pox vaccine likely decreases your risk of getting shingles later in life?
Does she know that the chicken pox vaccine likely decreases your risk of getting shingles later in life?

Apparently, there are still plenty of folks looking for chicken pox parties to infect their kids.

Why?

It is easy to see a lot of cognitive biases at play in the decision to host or bring a child to a chicken pox party, including ambiguity aversion (prefer what they think are the known risks of getting the disease), bandwagoning (they think everyone else is doing it, because in their echo chambers of anti-vaccine propaganda, everyone might), and optimism bias, etc.

There is also a very poor perception of risks, as the risks from a natural chicken pox infection are far, far greater than any risk from the vaccine.

Don't forget to tent!!!
Don’t forget to tent and share breath!!!

In bigger news, Facebook has groups who’s mission is “finding pox,” so that parents can get their kids sick!

The mission of PX Colorado is finding pox!
The mission of PX Colorado is finding pox!

How many other PoX type groups are there on Facebook?

How many other parents are intentionally not vaccinating their kids and intentionally exposing them to chicken pox?

Do any of them quarantine or isolate their kids for 10 to 21 days after the chicken pox party, so as to not expose anyone who is too young to be vaccinated, too young to be fully vaccinated, or has a true medical exemption to getting vaccinated, including those who are immunocompromised?

Do they understand the consequences of having these pox parties?

The latest chicken pox party hostess is apparently a nurse - at least for now...
The latest chicken pox party hostess is apparently a nurse – at least for now…

Of course, an investigation from CPS, the health department, or a medical board isn’t the most serious consequence that should discourage folks from hosting or attending a chicken pox party.

Chicken pox can be a serious, even life-threatening infection. Sure, many kids just get a mild case, but others get more serious cases and have bad complications, including skin infections, encephalitis, sepsis, or stroke.

And some people do still die from chicken pox, which is supposed to be a mild, childhood illness.

“This report describes a varicella death in an unvaccinated, previously healthy adolescent aged 15 years.”

Varicella Death of an Unvaccinated, Previously Healthy Adolescent — Ohio, 2009

Fortunately, these deaths have been nearly eliminated thanks to the chicken pox vaccine.

And that’s why parents who are on a mission for “finding pox” should rethink things and switch to a mission to get their kids vaccinated and protected.

More on Chicken Pox Parties

Why Was My Titer Negative After My Chicken Pox Vaccine?

Having a negative titer after a vaccine might confuse some folks, as a vaccine should lead to immunity and a positive titer test.

Why Was My Titer Negative After My Chicken Pox Vaccine?

In the case of chicken pox, some folks will simply be confused about why you had a titer checked in the first place.

“There are currently no commercially available VZV IgG methods sensitive and specific enough to reliably detect seroconversion to vaccine.”

Chicken Pox – Interpreting Laboratory Tests

A chicken pox titer can help to confirm that you had a natural chicken pox infection, but it won’t confirm that someone has had the vaccine or that they have immunity after being vaccinated.

“In what circumstances should I obtain a varicella titer after vaccination?

Postvaccination serologic testing is not recommended in any group, including healthcare personnel.”

Ask the Experts About Chicken Pox

To satisfy school or work requirements, people should usually either have:

  • documentation of two doses of the chicken pox vaccine, or
  • titers to confirm that they have had a natural chicken pox infection

What if your titer is negative after a natural chicken pox infection?

Then you will likely have to get vaccinated.

If you have never been vaccinated or had a natural chicken pox infection with evidence of immunity, then you should get two doses of the chicken pox vaccine.
If you have never been vaccinated or had a natural chicken pox infection with evidence of immunity, then you should get two doses of the chicken pox vaccine.

You likely shouldn’t be required to have a titer done after you have had your chicken pox vaccines though.

More on Understanding Chicken Pox Titer Tests

What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to Shingles

Pediatricians often get calls from worried parents because their kids have been exposed to someone with shingles.

Would you know what to do?

Shingles and Chicken Pox

Shingles is definitely contagious.

“A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer infectious.”

CDC on Shingles Transmission

Herpes zoster was described as early as 1867, as can be seen in the lithograph from the Atlas der Hautkranheiten, although the connection with chickenpox didn't come until later.
Herpes zoster (HZ) was described as early as 1867, as can be seen in the lithograph from the Atlas der Hautkranheiten, although the connection with chickenpox didn’t come until later.

Not surprisingly, the biggest factor that will determine what needs to be done is whether or not your child is immune to chicken pox (primary varicella). Has your child ever had a natural chicken pox infection or completed a two dose chicken pox vaccine series?

Chicken pox vaccine?

Yes, because while shingles is contagious, you won’t get shingles if you are exposed to someone with shingles, but you can get chicken pox.

Remember, shingles is a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which also causes chicken pox. After a natural chicken pox infection, or less commonly after having the chicken pox vaccine, the chicken pox virus can stay dormant in the dorsal root ganglia of a spinal nerve. And you get shingles if the virus ever reactivates.

The type of exposure also matters.

Shingles is usually thought to be less contagious than chicken pox and requires direct contact with the rash, while it is in the blister phase, to spread disease. You shouldn’t catch the virus by simply being in the same room as someone with shingles. So if their shingles rash was completely covered by clothing, that decreases the chance of any real exposure.

“Not only was the risk of secondary infection with HZ comparable to that of primary varicella, the risk was similar regardless of the anatomic location of HZ. This finding contradicts the assumption that coverage of active skin lesions with dressings or clothing reduces VZV aerosolization and, if substantiated through further investigation, may warrant a change in current recommendations for VZV prevention.”

Bloch et al on Varicella Zoster Virus Transmission in the Vaccine Era: Unmasking the Role of Herpes Zoster

Covering the shingles rash doesn’t eliminate the risk of exposure though.

Another problem is that it isn’t always easy to recognize that someone has shingles, especially when younger children or teens have it.

“Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However, the risk of shingles increases as you get older.”

CDC on Shingles Clinical Overview

After all, no one expects an infant or toddler to have shingles, but it is important to remember that you can get shingles at any age, it is just more common the older you get.

Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant.
Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant. Photo by Kaoutar Zinelabidine et al.

And since it is often less severe in children and younger adults, who get a lot of rashes anyway, shingles isn’t usually the first thing a parent or many pediatricians will think of as a diagnosis.

That increases the risk of exposure before a diagnosis of shingles is finally made.

What to Do If Your Unvaccinated Child Is Exposed to Shingles

If your unvaccinated child, or incompletely vaccinated child, who has never had chicken pox is exposed to shingles, you should talk to your pediatrician about getting him vaccinated with the chicken pox vaccine. The vaccine should be given as soon as possible and preferably within 3 days of the exposure, but it can work even if it is given as long as 5 days afterwards.

“Vaccination within 3 days of exposure to rash was >90% effective in preventing varicella whereas vaccination within 5 days of exposure to rash was approximately 70% effective in preventing varicella and 100% effective in modifying severe disease.”

ACIP on Prevention of Varicella

This post-exposure vaccination can greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing chicken pox and even if your child does develop chicken pox, it will reduce the severity of the disease.

Otherwise, you should watch your child carefully over the next 10 to 21 days for the development of the classic symptoms of chicken pox, including a rash and fever, keeping him quarantined until after this incubation period so that you don’t expose others.

Certain high risk children who aren’t immune and who can’t get a chicken pox vaccine should get VariZIG (varicella zoster immune globulin) after being exposed to shingles (or chicken pox). This includes:

  • immunocompromised patients
  • hospitalized premature infants born at or after 28 weeks gestation, if their mother wasn’t immune to chicken pox
  • hospitalized premature infants born before 28 weeks gestation, even if their mother was immune to chicken pox
  • pregnant women who are not immune to chicken pox

VariZIG is given as soon as possible and within 10 days of exposure.

What to Do If Your Vaccinated Child Is Exposed to Shingles

If your child has already had chicken pox or two doses of the chicken pox vaccine, then you can likely safely assume that he is protected if he is ever exposed to shingles.

Still, since no vaccine is 100% effective, you should watch him over the next 10 to 21 days in case he does develop any signs or symptoms of chicken pox.

And keep the shingles rash covered to prevent further exposure.

What to Know About Getting Exposed to Shingles

Shingles is contagious and can cause someone to develop chicken pox if they haven’t already had it or aren’t vaccinated and protected.

More on Getting Exposed to Shingles

Can the Shingles Vaccine Cause Shingles?

Licensed in 2006, it has been recommended that all seniors who are at least 60 years old get Zostavax, the shingles vaccine.

When given as a one time dose, it can help reduce your risk of developing shingles by 51% and risk of developing post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) by 67%. That protection will last about five years.

Since you can get shingles more than once, you can get the shingles vaccine even if you have already had shingles.

Myths About the Shingles

A lot of people don’t understand shingles (herpes zoster).

Herpes zoster was described as early as 1867, as can be seen in the lithograph from the Atlas der Hautkranheiten, although the connection with chickenpox didn't come until later.
Herpes Zoster was described as early as 1867, as can be seen in the lithograph from the Atlas der Hautkranheiten, although the connection with chicken pox didn’t come until later.

What is shingles? It is a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. Although we don’t know why, it is clear that in some people, instead of staying dormant, the chicken pox virus can reactivate from the dorsal root ganglia of a spinal nerve.

Is shingles contagious? Yes, but other people exposed to shingles won’t actually get shingles, instead, they can get chicken pox (if they are not immune).

Can you catch shingles? No, but you can catch chicken pox (if you are not immune) from someone that has shingles.

Can kids get shingles? Yes, you can get shingles at just about any age, but the risk increases as you get older, which is why the elderly are most at risk.

What does herpes zoster have to do with genital herpes? Nothing. Shingles got the name herpes zoster before it was known that it was caused by the chicken pox virus (varicella zoster).

Can you get shingles if you have never had chicken pox? Yes, if you have had the chicken pox vaccine, although the risk is much less than after a natural chicken pox infection with the wild-type chicken pox virus. In fact, so far, it has been shown that vaccinated children have a moderately decreased risk of getting shingles after being vaccinated with the chicken pox vaccine.

Are we seeing more cases of shingles in adults because kids get the chicken pox vaccine now? No. While an interesting theory, it has been shown over and over and over that the chicken pox vaccine is not creating an epidemic of shingles. Studies have shown that shingles cases were rising before we started giving the chicken pox vaccine and they have been rising in countries that don’t even protect children with the chicken pox vaccine. The two are not connected.

Myths About the Shingles Vaccine

A lot of people also don’t understand the shingles vaccine.

They especially don’t seem to understand that it is same live strain of virus that is in the chicken pox vaccine, only with higher virus titers (it is more potent).

Why is it just for seniors who are at least 60 years old? That’s the age that it works best and since the immunity is not life long and it is given as just one dose, experts felt that would be the best time to get it. You can get it later though. You could even get it earlier, as early as age 50 years. Can you get it even earlier? You might consider getting the vaccine off-label at an earlier age if you have already had one or more severe cases of shingles, but it is only routinely recommended for people who are at least 60 years old.

Can you get the shingles vaccine if you have never had chicken pox? No, you should get the chicken pox vaccine instead. But keep in mind that most adults born in the pre-vaccine era, especially if they were born before 1980, are presumed to have had chicken pox already, even if they don’t remember it. Talk to your doctor if you really don’t think you have though.

“If you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, it didn’t get there by accident.”

President Bill Clinton

Does the shingles vaccines cause shingles? No. Since it only reduces your risk of developing shingles by 51% and the duration of protection is about 5 years, there is certainly a chance that you could get shingles even after having the vaccine, but the shingles vaccine doesn’t actually cause shingles.

The package insert for the shingles vaccine was updated in 2014.
The package insert for the shingles vaccine was updated in 2014 to add ‘herpes zoster: vaccine strain’ as a possible adverse reaction.

Is it worth getting vaccinated against shingles? It is if you want to try and avoid getting shingles! And even though the vaccine isn’t perfect, it is safe, and “In general, with increasing age at vaccination, the vaccine retained efficacy against severity of zoster better than against zoster itself.” So even if you do get shingles later on, it should be a milder case.

Why do some folks think that the shingles vaccine can cause shingles? In 2014, the package insert for the shingles vaccine was updated to mention that shingles could be a side effect after getting the vaccine. It was added to the Adverse Events section of the package insert, where “these reactions are reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size, it is generally not possible to reliably estimate their frequency or establish a causal relationship to the vaccine.”

Vaccines are monitored for safety even after they are approved by the FDA, so it is not a surprise that the package insert would be updated like this.

Have you seen any TV ads for lawsuits against the shingles vaccine?
Have you seen any TV ads for lawsuits against the manufacturers of the shingles vaccine?

Since they reportedly found the vaccine strain of the virus (VZV-Oka), the implications are pretty clear. But that likely just means that they got the shingles vaccine without having any immunity to chicken pox. After all, if they were immune to chicken pox from a past infection, then they would have had wild-type virus (VZV-WT) in their shingles lesions, not vaccine strain virus. And then, just like someone who got the chicken pox vaccine could still get shingles, these folks got shingles.

“The absence of VZV-Oka in samples from cases of HZ in zoster vaccine recipients indicates either that VZV-Oka rarely, if ever, establishes latency in sensory ganglia already latently infected with VZV-WT, or that if VZV-Oka does establish latent neuronal infections in VZV seropositive vaccine recipients, it rarely, if ever, reactivates to cause HZ. ”

Ruth Harbecke, et al on A Real-Time PCR Assay to Identify and Discriminate Among Wild-Type and Vaccine Strains of Varicella-Zoster Virus and Herpes Simplex Virus in Clinical Specimens, and Comparison With the Clinical Diagnoses

That still wouldn’t mean that the shingles vaccine caused shingles though. Remember, we know that “Among vaccine recipients, the attenuated Oka/Merck strain of VZV included in varicella vaccine also can establish a latent infection and clinically reactivate as zoster.” Again, that means you can get shingles after getting the chicken pox vaccine.

So the shingles vaccine could theoretically have caused a latent infection that reactivated = shingles.

But doesn’t that mean that the shingles vaccine caused them to have shingles. Maybe indirectly, but then it also gave them immunity against chicken pox. It has been shown that the shingles vaccine can safely provide immunity to adults who never had chicken pox before.

It’s not an accident that some people think that the shingles vaccine can cause shingles though and are maybe even afraid to get it. Like most anti-vaccine misinformation, this myth is spread on the Internet, this time with the help of personal injury lawyers.

What To Know About the Shingles Vaccine

The shingles vaccine is a safe way to decrease your risk of developing shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia, and it doesn’t directly cause shingles.

For More Information on the Shingles Vaccine: