A report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) found that the majority of children who develop chicken pox (known as varicella infection) make a full recovery but 2-6% of cases seen by a family doctor develop complications.
“The most frequent complications are skin and soft tissue superinfections, followed by neurological and pulmonary complications,” the report says.
Long-term problems have been reported in 0.4 to 3.1% of patients hospitalised due to varicella infections.Most complications and hospitalisations were recorded in healthy children.
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Estimating the death rate is difficult partly because the number of deaths is low and because chicken pox deaths can be incorrectly recorded.
For example, the cause of death on death certificates could be attributed to pneumonia or blood poisoning which follows the initial infection with the varicella zoster virus.
“In general, most of those who died of varicella were reported to have been previously healthy individuals,” says the ECDC.
Read the ECDC report: Varicella vaccination in the European Union
Underlying conditions, such as leukaemia, were present in approximately 20‒30% of the deaths.
The common causes of death reported were septicaemia, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, myocarditis, endotoxic shock or encephalitis.
According to the report, varicella is a serious infection at any stage of pregnancy both for the mother and for the child.
Chicken pox is preventable through vaccination and a vaccine is available in the EU. Six European countries recommend that all children have the vaccine which the ECDC says is safe and effective.