Study: Deaths related to chickenpox-causing virus decrease, thanks to vaccine

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. — Chickenpox is the scourge of many a schoolchild and usually a convenient, if itchy and feverish, reason to stay home for several days, but it also has been fatal for many who catch it — until recently.

According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, since a vaccine for varicella, the virus that causes chickenpox, became available in 1995, deaths from the virus have been virtually eliminated.

Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the annual average rate of deaths that had varicella as the underlying cause declined by 88%, from 0.41 per million between 1990 and 1994 to 0.05 per million between 2005 and 2007.

Among patients younger than 50 years of age, the death rate declined by 96%, including 97% for children and adolescents younger than 20 years of age. Among children ages 1 to 9 years, only six deaths were reported between 2002 and 2007, compared with 13 to 16 deaths per year before the vaccine’s introduction.