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The dangers of contracting chickenpox as an adult

Updated on June 12, 2012

As with many childhood illnesses, contracting chickenpox in the adult years would be more dangerous than when it is contracted during the childhood. Although chicken pox is not considered a fatal illness or reaches even close to being life threatening in most instances, the amount of discomfort and the rate of complications have shown to be much higher when the adults contract the disease.

According to health statistics, although adult chickenpox only contributes to 5% of all cases of chickenpox, it contributes to almost 55% of deaths and 33% of all hospitalizations due to its complications. Therefore, the disproportionate figures do point towards the danger of contracting chickenpox in the adult years although when compared to some of the other serious illnesses, numbers representing the above figures would be relatively low.

Following is a brief description of the dangers or the complications that are expected of an adult suffering from chickenpox. However, these complications can also take place among the children who suffers from the same although the intensity and the rate of complications are relatively low.

Bacterial skin infections

One of the commonest complications following chickenpox in adults is the occurrence of secondary bacterial infections of the blisters that form on the skin. Staphylococcus aureus and streptococcus pyogenes are the two organisms, which are likely to cause such an infection in most instances. While most such infections are superficial, there is a possibility of the same bacteria invading the blood stream and giving rise to a much worse infection known as a ‘bacteremia’. The danger of a bacteremia of any type would be its ability to give rise to many other illnesses such as osteomyelitis (infections of the joints and bones), bacterial pneumonia, sepsis, shock, meningitis and sometimes even death.

Neurological complications

Meningoencephalitis and acute cerebellar ataxia are the two of the commonest neurological complications that can take place following contracting chickenpox. The signs pertaining to these two manifestations may include, seizures, irritability, difficulty in speech, imbalance and coordination problems, headaches, neck pain and stiffness, vision abnormalities, difficulty in walking…etc.

Respiratory complications

As described earlier, when the virus causing the chickenpox spreads to the lungs through the blood stream, it can give rise to a complication known as the vericella pneumonia. According to statistics, around 1 in 400 adults who suffer from chickenpox could develop this complication while it has been recognized as a leading cause of morbidity and mortality following chickenpox infection in adults.

Bleeding problems

It is also known that chickenpox infection can give rise to complications in the liver and such complications, which include transient hepatitis and an inflammation of the liver cells, may cause a bleeding tendency due to the disruption taking place in the clotting mechanism.

In addition to the above complications and dangers, adults who contract chickenpox may also be at risk of developing secondary infections as their immune system can be suppressed to ineffective levels during the chickenpox infection.

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    • blueheron profile image

      Sharon Vile 4 years ago from Odessa, MO

      There are many indications that vaccinations themselves pose a substantial risk. Peple need to do their own thinking on this--and do their own research--especially where children's vaccinations are concerned. It's never a good idea to let other people do your thinking for you.

    • pandula77 profile image
      Author

      Dr Pandula 4 years ago from Norway

      Thank you for sharing your experience blueheron. But, it is recognized that adults who contract chickenpox are more prone to develop complications than children. As you said, if you contract chickenpox as a child you are better off than getting it later in life. In some instances, the reason for more complications is the unhealthy status of our own body. Smoking, alcoholism, other medical illnesses and immune compromising conditions can aggravate the manifestations of chickenpox in adults and therefore more complications than in the olden days.

    • blueheron profile image

      Sharon Vile 4 years ago from Odessa, MO

      I guess I'm old school, but back in the day, we all had these mild, self-limited childhood ailments: measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and whooping cough. Frankly, they are kind of a yawn. I am much more concerned about the dangers of excessive numbers of vaccinations.

      My kids were not vaccinated, due to these concerns--and, believe me, I did a LOT of research before making this decision. I found that chicken pox is quickly cured with echinacea--in 24 hours all major symptoms will be gone, and the child will be completely well in 48 hours. (The spots take a while longer to clear up, but the child will be well.) I am told by people who have had shingles that they are easily cured with echinacea.

      Medical professionals are naturally more alarmed by these minor illnesses, since they see only the cases of serious complications. Yet I doubt that such complications are any more frequent than for colds or flu.

      It is now easy to persuade people that chicken pox is some kind of scourge. If you'd actually seen it or cared for a child with chicken pox, it would be clear that we're talking about a fairly minor ailment that our mothers and grandmothers treated as such and barely got excited about. Moms used to deliberately expose their children to chicken pox to ensure future immunity and thus the avoidance of adult chicken pox. Same with measles.

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      I have heard of the dangers of contracting chicken pox as an adult before. It's kind of frightening. Another thing I have noticed is the increase in cases of shingles in adults. I know everyone carries the chicken pox virus from childhood but shingles seems to be more prevalent now. Why is that? Is it an environmental issue as with so many other conditions these days or is it something else? It's a good thing that there are vaccinations available to those most susceptible such as seniors and individuals with compromised immune systems owing to cancer treatments for example. Great article! Thank you for sharing.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I got chicken pox when I was in High school. I got an excuse not to go to school but the feeling was dismal. Shots for chicken pox is important.

    • Skarlet profile image

      Skarlet 6 years ago from California

      Great article. This truly is a serious illness. I personally know two adults who suffered from this and one of them said that she would rather die than suffer through it again.

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