Bengaluru’s early summer has brought with it a chickenpox outbreak – and children are being hit the hardest.
Hospitals across the city are reporting an increase in admissions with chickenpox cases. Dr S. M. Prasad of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics has noted “chickenpox cases see a rise as summer sets in” and says limited awareness and availability of vaccines could also play a part. Dr Prasad said his clinic had seen three admissions in the last five days alone. Dr Ambanna Gowda, general physician at Fortis Hospital, stated he was witnessing three to four cases every week.
Chickenpox is a viral and highly contagious disease caused by infection with the varicella-zoster virus. It is hallmarked by the appearance of blisters over the body. Symptoms tend to last for up to a week, at which point the blisters begin to scab over. Other symptoms can include headache and a mild fever.
In some cases, chickenpox can result in pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, bacterial skin infections and stroke. In pregnant women, chickenpox can be a risk factor for a number of disorders, ranging from brain disorders such as encephalitis to damage to the spinal cord. Those with suppressed immune systems are at greatest risk of complications.
Because of the highly contagious nature of the disease, it is recommended that children be isolated to prevent the spread of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes the disease to be transmitted through contact either with fluid from blisters or exhaled droplets. This could pose problems for Bengaluru’s children as exam season arrives. Some have already reported absences from annual exams due to chickenpox.
The absence of vaccines against chickenpox in the Centre’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) means it is often available only through private hospitals. This can put the vaccine out of reach for many families.
While chickenpox is normally not a fatal disease, infection with the varicella-zoster virus can cause other complications such as herpes and shingles in later life. This, combined with the risk of complications for vulnerable groups, suggests inclusion of the chickenpox vaccine in the UIP could be of benefit to public health.