If you’ve been following the news lately, you might have heard that Justin Bieber was recently diagnosed with a rare neurological condition called Ramsey Hunt Syndrome, which has caused partial paralysis of his face. Ramsey Hunt Syndrome is caused by partial reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. Ramsey Hunt Syndrome, along with its related condition, shingles, are good reasons why it’s so important to have your children get the chickenpox vaccine.
How getting chickenpox can lead to Ramsey Hunt Syndrome
When a person gets chickenpox, after the initial symptoms resolve, the virus remains in the body, hanging out in the ganglia of the sensory nerves as a latent infection. Years later, the virus can be reactivated, usually due to factors that weaken the immune system like stress, aging, medications, or a number of medical conditions.
When the varicella-zoster virus is reactivated, the most common result is shingles, which is an incredibly painful rash—one that presents as a stripe of blisters that either appear on the right or left side of your torso. Although rare, shingles can lead to some pretty serious complications, including vision loss, chronic pain, or inflammation of the brain. A rarer result is developing Ramsey Hunt Syndrome, where the virus reactivates in the facial nerve, causing damage.
Why vaccinating your kids against chickenpox is so important
The chickenpox vaccine was introduced in 1995. Since then, the number of annual chickenpox infections has dropped from four million per year to about half a million. The CDC estimates that the vaccine is responsible for preventing 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths each year. That’s a lot for a disease that is often dismissed as being mild.
The additional benefit of vaccinating your children against chickenpox is that it will also protect them from developing shingles or Ramsey Hunt Syndrome later in life.
When should kids get the chickenpox vaccine?
When it comes to getting the vaccine, children are given the first dose between ages 12 to 15 months, and the second between the ages of 4 to 6. If your child didn’t get the vaccine when they were younger, getting it at a later date is also an option. The CDC’s catch-up schedule for the varicella vaccine recommends three months between doses if your child is under the age of 13, and four months if they are 13 years or older.
If you’re an adult who has never had chickenpox, you can also get the vaccine at any time, with the second dose being administered at least 28 days after the first.
For adults, the shingles vaccine is also an option
If you’ve been infected with chickenpox in the past, there are still options for preventing either shingles or Ramsey Hunt Syndrome. As Ashley Lipps, an infectious disease expert at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center recently told Healthline, “For those who have had chickenpox in the past, the shingles vaccine, for those who are eligible, can reduce the risk of developing shingles or Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.”
The CDC recommends that adults over the age of 50 receive the shingles vaccine. They also recommend it for people over the age of 19 who have weakened immune systems. For adults with healthy immune systems, the vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles, and offers strong protection for at least seven years.