Recently we had a notice from Gavin’s school that one of the girls turned up with Chicken Pox. They had not noticed the spots until the afternoon when they showered her (some of the children stay for the full day at school and get showered before their afternoon nap). After calling her parents to take her home, the parents later called back to confirm the doctor’s diagnosis of Chicken Pox.
Don’t know whether I should consider myself lucky or unlucky, but I’ve never had Chicken Pox before. However, I thought Chicken Pox rashes were usually preceded by symptoms of fever, sore throat and malaise…
I digress… Since individuals are contagious from one to two days before the appearance of the Chicken Pox rashes, the school informed all parents to be on the look out for their children. Symptoms normally develop about two weeks after exposure. Knowing that I was pregnant, the principal also made a call to me to make sure I was fully aware of the situation – which I thought was very professional of her.
As we all know, Chicken Pox and pregnant women don’t really mix, but just how bad it would be to have Chicken Pox while pregnant, I wasn’t sure. The circumstances were unusual but this was my line of reasoning. Gavin’s exposure to the girl occurred on Monday 16 – that meant that he would not begin to show symptoms until at least Monday 30. That also meant that he should not be contagious until then. Since I am due to deliver well before then, does it stand to reason that the baby is protected? I thought so.
The other good news was that both I and Gavin had been vaccinated for Chicken Pox before. Gavin during his first year – which I had completely forgotten about until I checked his vaccination schedule – and I just prior to entering clinical dentistry in second year (about 12 years ago). I was part of a Chicken Pox vaccination study which enabled me to get the vaccine for free. They also monitored me for nearly ten years after the vaccination was given.
Now here’s the thing about the Chicken Pox vaccination – it does not provide complete protection against Chicken Pox. About 8 to 9 out of 10 individuals who receive the vaccination will receive complete immunity, but 1 to 2 will pick it up. The good news is that the symptoms are usually a lot milder. The bad news is that the individual would still be contagious.
I wasn’t so much concerned about getting Chicken Pox myself but of the consequences of passing it on to Gareth. However, since both Gavin and I had been vaccinated, the odds of Gareth getting it further down the line were quite slim. Nevertheless, I called Dr Wong to inform him of the situation so he would have all the facts on hand. Dr Wong had more reassurances for us – it is only in the first trimester (first twenty weeks according to March of Dimes) that Chicken Pox can cause congenital varicella syndrome which can lead to several birth defects. Defects are a lot rarer after the first twenty weeks – nevertheless ultrasounds can usually pick these defects up before birth.
Dr Wong also said that though the Chicken Pox vaccination doesn’t necessarily provide complete immunity, it is a lot higher in children (who take to the vaccine better) compared to adults. So chances are that if Gavin is quite safe from picking up Chicken Pox, both Gareth and I are, too.
Since we’re on the topic, I thought I would examine this scenario a little further. Beyond the risk of developing Chicken Pox in the first trimester, were there other risks of infection late in pregnancy? According to March of Dimes, if a mother develops the rash between five days before delivery and two days after delivery, about 25-50% of newborns do become infected as well. This can be very serious and potentially fatal. The good news is that it can be treated to reduce the severity of the disease.
Conclusion – we can all breathe a little easier.
Times like these I have to be grateful for the development of vaccinations. However, that said, it is becoming an increasing concern that more parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children. In these days of conspiracy theories regarding how vaccinations cause Autism, HDD and food allergies, there is a lot of misinformation being spread around. This has no doubt influenced many parents in their decision not to vaccinate their children.
What is it to me whether other parents choose to or not to vaccinated their children? Surely it is up to a parent and if they decide to risk subjecting their children to potentially lethal diseases by choosing not to vaccinate it has nothing to do with me, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as simple as that.
As we are aware, there are no vaccinations available that provide complete immunity against a disease. They can prevent its occurrence in some individuals and reduce the severity of symptoms in others, however, the greatest benefit of vaccinations to society is that it can offer blanket immunity. That means if all babies are vaccinated, spread of the disease will be reduced enormously and eventually eradicated (think of Small Pox). However, as long as there exists parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, these diseases will remain a risk to every individual.