IRISH health experts have issued a fresh warning on the “serious” complications of chickenpox – as hospitalised cases are double the same time last year.
Some 12 cases of chickenpox have needed hospital treatment so far this year, up from just five in the same time period back in 2021.
And 40 per cent of Irish people are unaware of the risks and complications chickenpox can cause, experts fear.
According to HPSC data up to April 2, there were two hospitalisations due to chickenpox last week.
There have been 12 people hospitalised with the illness so far this year, up from five people for the same period last year during Covid lockdown when kids were out of school – a rise of 140 per cent.
Chickenpox is a common, highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
It mostly affects children under 10 but you can contract the bug at any age.
Chickenpox can cause an itchy, blister-like rash as well as high temperatures above 38C, aches and pains and a loss of appetite.
It can be a serious disease, especially in babies, adults, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system.
Professor David Coghlan, a consultant paediatrician, said that chickenpox can become a “very serious disease” for some.
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Prof Coghlan said: “What many don’t realise, is that in some circumstances, chickenpox can become a very serious disease for young children, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system.
“Complications can include infections on the skin, lung infections or pneumonia and pregnancy issues, including spread of infection to an unborn baby.
“While incidences of risks are low among parents surveyed, the complications arising from chickenpox, in some cases, can be life-changing.
“Furthermore, if you have had chickenpox at any stage, you have a greater risk of developing shingles in later life.
“This can happen when the immune system is low, and the chickenpox virus becomes reactivated. Information is key when it comes to managing our family health and wellbeing.
“Speak to a GP or healthcare professional directly to get all the facts you need to decide what’s best for your family.”
Chickenpox starts with red spots. They can appear anywhere on the body. They become extremely itchy after about 12 to 14 hours.
Some other symptoms could develop before or after the spots including a 38C temperatures, aches and pains, and generally feeling unwell and loss of appetite.
The HSE offers chickenpox vaccines, but not as part of routine childhood jabs.
People can pay to get the vaccine from your GP and it can be given to anyone over 12 months old.
New research has shown that 60 per cent of people claimed to have some awareness of the risks associated with chickenpox.
According to the research, carried out by Ipsos, on behalf of MSD Ireland, 40 per cent of people did not feel aware of the risks and complications the virus can cause.
The research also showed that the average parent needs three days annual leave in order to care for a sick child with chickenpox.
While 30 per cent of parents said their child needed ten days or more off school to recover from the illness.
Two in three Irish households have directly experienced chicken pox with two in five respondents revealing the virus transmitted to other siblings or relatives.
Almost two in five chickenpox cases were believed to have been picked up in a pre-school setting.
GP Dr Laura Lenihan said the findings demonstrate “continued need” to raise awareness of chickenpox and its impact on family life.
Dr Lenihan said: “Chickenpox is one of many preventable diseases which families, school settings and our community health services encounter each year.
“With the massive strain that our health system is under, we should all be looking at ways to alleviate this pressure and ensure that preventable diseases like chickenpox, do not compound the issue.
“This can not be done without greater awareness building of chickenpox in the first instance and the potential impacts it can have on our households, and this is something we cannot become complacent about as we still cope with Covid-19 in our healthcare settings.”