Despite being only three years old at the time, I have vivid memories of having chickenpox, also known as varicella. They mostly involve wandering around naked, crying, and miserable, with socks tied onto my hands so I wouldn’t scratch. I also took multiple cool Aveeno baths, and had orange Calamine lotion painted over my body. Luckily I had no complications, and all that linger are a couple of pockmark scars (I learned how to get the socks off.)
Chickenpox used to be a rite of passage for children, to the point where parents would purposely expose kids during summer vacation (please note this practice is not recommended.) This wasn’t just for convenience; the older a child is, the worse chickenpox gets. This means an adolescent or adult who gets chickenpox is usually in for a longer and more severe illness than a child. Women who have never been exposed to or vaccinated against chickenpox risk harm to their fetus, if they catch the virus during pregnancy.
Nowadays, most children routinely receive a varicella vaccine during childhood, which is very effective at preventing chickenpox. I have to admit I felt a stab of envy when the vaccine came out, and also relief that kids might be saved an unpleasant experience that my generation thought inevitable. If your teen has received full vaccination against chickenpox, they are almost 100% protected (and if they are one of the unlucky few who still catch it, they will have a much milder case.)
However, if your teen has not been vaccinated, or only partially vaccinated, and has never had chickenpox, I would recommend taking another look at the vaccine. For teens, chickenpox is not the same experience as with children: it lasts longer, is more severe, and carries a higher risk of complications. It can involve teen and young adults missing school, college, or important events at crucial times, not to mention causing a lot of physical misery that could be avoided.
The varicella vaccine can also provide important protection for female teens, in preparation for a future pregnancy. It may help prevent against shingles, which can occur when someone’s immune system is weakened (such as during an unforeseen illness, pregnancy, or old age.)
Many teens are at a point where they are able to contribute to and participate in their healthcare. If they haven’t had chickenpox or the vaccine, bring your teen to your healthcare provider, and have a discussion about the varicella vaccine.
Do you have opinions/ experiences about chickenpox or the varicella vaccine? Sound off below!
**Please note: The title of this post came from the combined creativity of Drs. Megan Moreno and Ellen Selkie. Also, I feel a little unqualified to discuss this topic, since I have not yet been able to convince my own mother to get a shingles vaccine… so if you have any creative ideas for that, please let me know.