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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Vaccine Chokes Chickenpox

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"Even routine cases [of chickenpox] are pretty unpleasant," Shapiro says. "It's not fun to have chickenpox for a week; and from a cost-benefit standpoint, parents often have to stay home from work to care for the sick child."

The vaccine also prevents complications down the road. "One of the complications of chickenpox is zoster ... [also called] shingles. All of the evidence suggests people [vaccinated against chickenpox] have a lower incidence of zoster. Shingles is a result of a previous infection, so having chickenpox in the past makes it more likely to get zoster."

In fact, the chickenpox vaccine, also known as the varicella vaccine, is being tested in older adults who previously had chickenpox but want to avoid getting shingles, which usually infects older people who have weaker immune systems, Shapiro says. The vaccine may be able to boost immunity enough to ward off a zoster infection.

Ann M. Arvin, MD, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, supports the Yale team's research. In a letter accompanying the study, she writes that while U.S. doctors are just becoming familiar with the chickenpox vaccine, favorable clinical results seen so far indicate that the virus that causes chickenpox eventually could be wiped out. If that happens, it would mark the first time humans will have beaten this type of virus, a herpesvirus.

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