Chickenpox Party in the Royals Dugout

If I ever walk through a baseball dugout, my biggest worry would be stepping in or touching chewing tobacco spit however the Kansas City Royals have much more to worry about after 2 players contracted chickenpox. It is assumed that the 2 infected players were not vaccinated and somehow escaped natural infection (possibly due to both Alex Rios and Kelvin Herrera being from the tropics where the virus spreads poorly).

Chickenpox, once a horrible rite of passage, has now been relegated to a rarity given the prowess the varicella vaccine. This vaccine that has nearly vanquished a disease that just over two decades ago infected 4 million, hospitalized over 10,000, and killed 150 Americans yearly. Now those numbers are 95% lower. Additionally because the same virus that causes chickenpox can years later reactivate and cause shingles the benefit of the vaccine will be far reaching as shingles and its horrible after-effect of post-herpetic neuralgia require billions of dollars of medical treatment costs annually.

Chickenpox is a very contagious disease and for those susceptible because they are too young to be vaccinated, not vaccinated for medical reasons, or not vaccinated for deliberate non-medical reasons can, for certain individuals, be a serious disease. As such, I oppose chickenpox parties for obvious reasons though maybe those anti-vaccine parents who fondly recall their beloved experiences with chickenpox might try to book the Royals dugout to give their poor children that same experience.


Chickenpox Party Pooper

Yet another reason to avail yourself of the shingles and chickenpox vaccines: shingles increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, especially in those under the age of 40.

This finding, published in Neurology, was a retrospective study that included over 100,000 individuals with shingles and found that those under 40 who experiencing shingles had a 50% increased risk for heart attacks as well as increased risk for mini-strokes (TIAs) and full strokes.

These findings reinforce the fact that this virus is not benign and should not have the privilege of having parties in its honor to help foster its spread. 

The Only Legit "Chickenpox Party"

Parents in the developed world no longer worry about their children contracting chickenpox (varicella) thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, available in the US since 1995 (20 years after it was introduced in other countries).

The man responsible for this life saving vaccine, Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, died on Monday (the same day as Monto Ho, who I wrote about it yesterday).

Prior to the introduction of this vaccine in the US, 4 million cases, up to 18,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths from chickenpox occurred annually. Now that the vaccine is in widespread use, these numbers have declined drastically.

However, the gains achieved by Dr. Takahasi's vaccine are currently under threat by those who, instead of availing themselves of the protection afforded by the vaccine, engage in "chickenpox parties" to knowingly expose their children to this pathogen.

I first heard of these "parties" while on a medical student rotation in England in 1999, before the vaccine was available in the UK. As a medical student I was completely baffled by this ritual then and, now, as an infectious disease physician my incredulity has exponentially increased. 

As someone who grew up prior to the vaccine's US introduction and contracted chickenpox in the 8th grade (much later than many of my classmates), I have a special affection for this vaccine.

The only party we should be having with respect to chickenpox is one in honor of Dr. Takahasi, celebrating his achievement and the benefit we all derive from it.