Chickenpox deaths in adults are increasing

November 08, 2001

Chickenpox causes considerable death in adults and may be increasing in importance, finds a study in this week's BMJ. Researchers in London reviewed death certificates from 1995-7 that mentioned "chickenpox" or "varicella." Further information was obtained from the physicians responsible for the patients to clarify the diagnosis.

They found that chickenpox accounts for about 25 deaths annually in England and Wales, more than from measles, mumps, whooping cough, and Hib meningitis combined. Furthermore, deaths in adults have been increasing for at least 30 years and now 81% of deaths from chickenpox are in adults.

Deaths were twice as common in men as in women, add the authors. Men aged 15-44 years accounted for almost half the confirmed male deaths and over a quarter of all confirmed deaths from chickenpox.

A chickenpox vaccine is available, though not yet licensed in the United Kingdom. However, these results do not on their own provide sufficient evidence for mass vaccination, say the authors. "We need information not only on the burden of disease at primary and secondary care levels, but also of the effect of the vaccine on herpes zoster. We also need to ensure a high enough uptake so that the disease does not shift towards the older population and a higher mortality," they conclude.
Deaths from chickenpox in England and Wales 1995-7: analysis of routine mortality data BMJ Volume 323, pp 1091-3


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