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Arch Dis Child 85:83-90 doi:10.1136/adc.85.2.83
  • Article
  • Current topic

Varicella vaccination—a critical review of the evidence

  1. S A Skull,
  2. E E L Wang
  1. Department of Pediatrics, The Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, Canada
  1. Dr S Skull, Victorian Infectious Diseases Service, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville, 3050 Australiasue.skull{at}mh.org.au
  • Accepted 20 March 2001

Varicella (chickenpox) is an universal, highly infectious disease characterised by a pruritic vesicular eruption associated with fever and malaise caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV). In children, the illness is usually self limiting, lasting four to five days, but at least 1% of children under 15 years experience a complication.1 2 These include secondary bacterial infection (particularly with group A beta haemolytic streptococcus),3 pneumonia, encephalitis, haemorrhagic complications, hepatitis, arthritis, and Reye syndrome.4Furthermore, 10–50% of all children will visit a physician with an infection.5-7 The mortality rate of varicella in children under 14 years in the United States is estimated at 2 per 100 000 cases,8 and 90% of these have no risk factors for severe disease.9

Adults experience only 5% of all varicella cases, but experience more severe disease (hospitalisations 18 per 1000) and deaths (50 per 100 000).10 Herpes zoster (shingles), a painful, dermatomal, vesicular rash occurs with reactivation of the virus in approximately 15% of the population.11 The likelihood of developing herpes zoster increases with advancing age: the incidence is approximately 74 per 100 000 children aged under 10 years,11 300 per 100 000 adults aged 35–44 years,12 and 1200 per 100 000 adults over 75 years.12

In temperate climates, 95% of varicella cases occur among persons less than 20 years of age.13 14 Seropositivity is lower in adults from tropical and subtropical areas.15 16Seronegativity in adults may be increasing in temperate populations, as shown by a significant upward trend in age distribution of chickenpox cases in England and Wales,17 and increasing varicella susceptibility in young US adults.18

A live attenuated varicella vaccine was first developed in 1974 in Japan by Takahashi and colleagues.19 As this Oka strain virus is heat sensitive, Biken/Oka vaccine (Japan) …