The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is talking about the importance of vaccinating against chickenpox (varicella) after recent reports of chickenpox outbreaks around Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is advising parents to make sure their children are up to date on vaccinations against chickenpox.

Outbreaks have been reported in recent weeks in Grand Traverse, Calhoun, Muskegon, and Wayne counties, and have involved mainly unvaccinated children in school settings.  Several of the cases that have been reported were hospitalized.

“Since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine 20 years ago, the immunization has greatly reduced the incidence of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths related to the disease. Michigan has seen a 97 percent decline in chickenpox in that time,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive with MDHHS. “The best thing you can do to protect your loved ones and community against chickenpox is to make sure your family is immunized.”

Immunization against chickenpox and several other vaccine-preventable diseases is required for school entry in Michigan. However, parents have the option to waive the requirement through their local health department.

Also known as varicella, chickenpox is caused by a virus in the herpes virus family and is characterized by an itchy, blistery rash. The rash may be preceded or accompanied by fever, tiredness, headache, and loss of appetite. Chickenpox is highly contagious, with the virus spreading easily through coughing, sneezing, and other contact with respiratory secretions. Like other herpes-family viruses, this virus has the capability to remain in the body indefinitely as a latent infection and reactivate later in life. When the chickenpox virus reactivates it causes a painful condition called shingles, also known as zoster.

Chickenpox can be variable, ranging from mild with few “pox” lesions to very severe illness requiring hospitalization.  Complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, and meningitis are more likely in adolescent and adult age groups. Before the vaccine, there were an estimated 4 million cases annually, with about 11,000 hospitalizations and an average of about 100 chickenpox-related deaths each year in the United States.

Studies have shown the recommended 2-dose series given in childhood is somewhere between 89 percent and 98 percent effective in preventing any mild-to-moderate chickenpox disease and 100 percent effective in preventing severe chickenpox.

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