Remember Chickenpox?

I remember having chickenpox. My brothers and I got chickenpox… excuse me… Varicella when we were young.  I remember having them. I remember it sucked and I had to put calamine lotion all over. I remember being told not to scratch them. One of them even left a little scar on my belly. I remember that they were even in our mouths. You can still kind of see my scar, but only if you know what you’re looking for.

My husband has a tiny scar from them too.

At any rate, we all got chickenpox when we were little for the most part right? And when one of us got them, our parents would often drive far and wide to have us attend a chickenpox party. They tried to expose us at a convenient time so that it didn’t happen around the holidays or a family vacation. They wanted to expose us because having a good and hearty case of chicken pox was said to make you less likely to have to deal with the evermore painful “shingles” as an adult. It’s kind of like cowpox and smallpox. People who contracted the much milder cowpox ended up immune against smallpox. As a side note: The original smallpox “vaccine” wasn’t even really a vaccine the way we think of it, they just scratched fluid from cowpox lesions into the skin of healthy individuals, gave them cow pox and then they were spared the far worse sickness of smallpox.   Granted, sometimes, people can still get shingles even if they’ve had chickenpox, but the thought was that if you get a hearty chickenpox outbreak, you’re spared a lot of suffering later on from shingles. And so our parents actively sought out chickenpox.

If you search our government pages for chickenpox (Varicella) you will find some pretty horrible pictures. They don’t usually mention any of the details of the circumstances of those photos, so when I was looking at them for the first time, I assumed those photos were an accurate depiction of what chickenpox usually looks like.  Taken aback, I wondered how in the world our parents handled the sickness so calmly, because it looked incredibly traumatic from the photos I saw. It looked unlike anything I’d ever willingly expose my child to. In fact, if I showed up at a Varicella party with my children and saw a child that looked the like children in those photos online, I’d turn right around and start spraying lysol all around us in hopes that none of those germs would EVER be spread to my children.

I know a woman who’s children all recently got chickenpox. None of them were vaccinated. They were all young children. She sent me pictures of her children from when they were in the thick of their Varicella sicknesses and she told me I could show them to you…

varicella vax varicella varicella rash

Now see, I could totally drop my child off to a chickenpox party with one of these kiddos.

Just the facts:

So anyway, according to the Immunization Action Coalition, (a strong advocate for vaccinations of all kinds that works closely with the CDC and healthcare officials) “Prior to the availability of varicella vaccine there were approximately 4 million cases of varicella a year in the U.S. Though usually a mild disease in healthy children, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people developed complications, about 10,000 people required hospitalization and 100 people died each year from varicella.”  FOUR MILLION CASES! That’s a lot of chickenpox. That’s awful.

Isn’t it?

And yet, out of those four million people, only about 100 people died each year from it? (Including people with compromised immune systems?) Back up the bus for one minute. Are you reading that?

Only 100 people used to to die from getting chickenpox?  Why, that’s around half of the number of little boys that die directly from circumcisions every year.

So, it’s 1980…

  • About 100 people die from chickenpox complications

Now, it’s 2010…

Mull those stats over for awhile. In the meantime, I’m going to try to find my scar.



  1. Melissa D

    Thank you SO much for this post! I absolutely appreciate every bit of it. I remember having chicken pox at the same time as my two older brothers, when I was a little girl. I don’t remember how old I was (but I know I was under 7 because my sister wasn’t even in my mom’s belly yet). All I can remember was that it itched, I was told not to scratch, and I had an oatmeal bath. I remember it didn’t last long (maybe 3 days?) and I don’t have any other memory than that. In fact, I remember it being far, far less traumatic than UTIs I’ve gotten from too much sugar and a number of other colds/flus throughout my life. The chicken pox was possibly the least traumatic (or even memorable) event of all illnesses I’ve ever had.

    Thank you so much for the reassurance and helping me to remember, myself, how non-scary it was.

    PS – I remember my parents being relieved that we all got it at the same time, and I remember them being calm, just feeling like “well, it’s a drag”… they’re attitude (not being scared) really helped, too, I’m sure!

  2. becky

    I’ve had both chicken pox and the shingles (a few months ago during the 3rd trim of my pregnancy) and they were both horrible. Can’t say I really remember the chicken pox, but I wouldn’t wish the shingles on anyone! ouch! 🙁 I don’t think I’m going to give my little one the chicken pox vaccine….who knows, maybe he’s got some immunity since he was in utero when I had the shingles and they come from the same virus….that would be fun.

  3. AJ Cecil

    My girls have both been vaccinated against chicken pox and I am glad that I did it. My older brother had some major complications when he had chicken pox before I was born. All of my younger siblings had it when we were little and both had pretty sever cases. I was exposed many, many times but did not get it. We thought I was immune. I even went and nannied for a family in 6th grade when the mom and both kids had chicken pox bc she needed help and I was apparently immune. One day when I was in 8th grade I noticed my face was having what I thought was a major breakout going on. Then I started not feeling well. When my mom got home from work she realized I had gotten chicken pox. We had no idea where I had gotten them but I had exposed an entire preschool program at the YMCA to chicken pox bc I didnt know thats what was wrong with me until my mom got home. I got extremely ill and have a lot of scars. I missed almost 2 weeks of school. I dont want to risk my girls having the same terrible experience I had. Most of the kids in my family who have had chicken pox have had it quite severly. I wish I had looked like the boys in the above pictures but that was not the case. There is a purpose for vaccinations. I do not follow the tight vaccination schedule but my girls will get the vaccinations. They are both healthy, sweet, extremely bright children and have suffered no ill effects. I do believe that vaccinations are important to protect the public from disease.

      • Melissa D

        Dawn ~ I agree. I don’t believe that vaccinations are the “immunizations” they have been publicized as, and that nobody should believe that their children are safe because of being vaccinated – even if you do believe the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks. If someone believes the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks, than believe in that, not that they will make your child immune to the illness without any other side effects.

        Each parent’s decision. I personally feel that good health (diet and hygeine) is much safer and more effective than any vaccines.

  4. crystal

    Ah, the conversation of chicken pox. I think i offer a unique perspective on this- and always love when there is a conversation, because there are some very important things about contagious diseases in general that i know i was not aware of prior to the birth of my second child.

    We were limited on vaccines and felt that a chicken pox party was the way to go prior to Tigerlily’s birth. WE didn’t think about how the illnesses we were possibly brewing(which i fully agree improve and strengthen our immune systems) affected other people. Including going to a chicken pox party and then going to the grocery store…….. ah how that has changed!

    You see, Tigerlily is one of those at increased risk. She takes medicine to keep her body from rejecting the new liver she received when she was 15months old. Those meds have made it hard, if not impossible, to fight certain illnesses on her own. She can not fight chicken pox, and when we have had accidental exposure(almost always after someone had knowingly been exposed, but hadn’t shared that info), she has had to take medicine which is pretty harsh on her body.

    I have seen transplant kids in the hospital for weeks trying to fight this with some heavy-duty IV drugs, only to get chicken pox AGAIN because they are unable to create antibodies.

    So with this- i just want to create the stop and think moment:

    I understand the chicken pox party, but please understand when you attend one, that you are knowingly carrying something that could be really rough on someone else. Making informed decisions, means making the tough ones too- when you choose to expose yourself, please consider choosing to stay in your home for those 7-21 days that it incubates.

    • That’s the main reason why I would want to do a chicken pox party, so that it would be controlled. I keep my kids home when they are sick, even with a cold. I just think it’s irresponsible as a citizen to go in public when you’re sick or may be carrying something. I know people think my delaying vaccinations is irresponsible to the public, but the people in my social circle who think that way also think nothing of bringing their kids to BBQs or to the grocery store vomiting and such. In my opinion, delaying vaxes for my daughter is a potential risk and exposing the public to a known illness is a deliberate direct risk… but people never think of that.

      In truth, I’ve never thought about little children with immunity issues at the store as my reasoning for not letting them out. I always think of people with AIDS, but really, the results are the same.

      I was livid when my son’s dad took my son out to a restaurant when he had the flu. My son’s immune system is great, so he was barely sick… but the virus is still the same and I couldn’t believe he would do that to people…

      • Christy Reed

        I think it is our civic duty, as a member of our society, to vaccinate our children. It is a public health issue, as well as a personal one. Millions of vaccines are given every year and very very few have adverse affects. Sure, your baby might have a fever and be out of sorts of for a few days but they won’t get or spread serious communicable diseases like polio, measles, rubella, pertussis, and chicken pox.
        Yes, chicken pox is serious. Especially since you may not know you are contagious until it’s too late for those you’ve already exposed. I would hope parents would keep their kids home when they have active chicken pox, as with any illness, but what about the 1-3 weeks prior to that when there are no symptoms?
        I recently babysat for a family for two days while their mom visited her sick grandmother in Alaska. After mom came home, one of the girls I cared for broke out with the chicken pox rash, and later so did the rest of the kids. My 5 month old baby was with me, who has obviously not been vaccinated yet (the first shot is at 1 year). She was therefore possibly contagious for the next 3 weeks! We couldn’t do anything. I had to skip all of my mom’s groups, couldn’t hang out with friends that had infants, and was afraid to get near Crystal’s house for fear of exposing Tigerlily. Amelia never got the chicken pox, and if she had, she probably would have been ok, but who knows how many immunocompromised people we could have exposed if I didn’t know she was potentially contagious? My friend that I babysat for did not vaccinate her kids and my baby as well as many other unsuspecting people were exposed to a very dangerous disease because of it. I have since spoken with this mom and she regrets not vaccinating-never thinking of it as a public health issue. It’s like obeying traffic laws-it might be a slight inconvenience to you but it is essential to the safety of the greater society. We have almost eradicated these diseases, why are people trying to bring them back?

        • I feel that the damage to children from early vaccines is much greater than you do though. If I felt that it was just a fever or discomfort that I was concerned with, I would not delay vaxing. I feel that there is enough factual evidence that the administering of vaccines to young children is detrimental to their immune systems in a lasting manner. I also feel that the additives in the vaccines are toxic. I also find that the amounts in a vaccine, when compared to what is considered safe in every other aspect of life besides vaccines, make them actually highly unsafe for a young child. Much more unsafe than getting the diseases. I feel that the fact that a child’s t-cells after certain vaccinations dropping to levels like an AIDS patient’s shows something unhealthy going on pertaining to how the immunity is being made. When people get very sick, their t-cells don’t even do it to that extreme from what I understand. I also feel that there is enough evidence to make me concerned about brain damage, cancers, and fertility(and in my highly allergic girl going into a life threatening allergic reaction) in the big picture of my child’s health that it is not worth the risks at a young age. Did you read my blog about delayed vaccinations? I do not feel that delaying vaccinations for the safety of the child to be vaccinated is any less important than protecting a child with a weakened immune system. I feel they are different issues. Life and death is paramount, of course. But in a second I will explain why this isn’t actually an arguement in regards to the chicken pox vaccine specifically.

          The real problem in my opinion isn’t delaying vaccinations, it’s people being careless with exposing other children to their illnesses of every kind. Even strep throat could harm a child with a weakened immune system. Yet, people regularly take their children out into public with it. People are rude and irresponsible when they take their sick child in public. That is terribly rude and dangerous. But when I’ve called people out for it, eyes get rolled at me left and right.

          I don’t feel that asking parents to get infants vaccinated, which will inevitably result in some sacrificial lambs dying of SIDS and other children ending up with altered personalities from poisoning, for the “greater good” is fair. No infant should ever have to be exposed to a known toxin. No parent should ever have to cross their fingers hoping their infant won’t be the one that gets the short straw.

          When children are older, and their brains are already 90% formed at three and their livers can process much more and they are in general larger… then I think it is fair to vaccinate. At that point, for some diseases, I think it’s a different story. In the case of chicken pox though, shingles is a highly painful thing and the vaccinations has increased the incidences of teenagers getting shingles dramatically. So, it’s still out there. The virus is still out there. This blog was strictly about chicken pox, which apparently, the vaccine does little to nothing to actually prevent. Many children still get it, they just get it less severe. A child that has a less severe case is still just as contagious, so from that viewpoint, the chicken pox vaccine will not help keep immune- compromised children healthy. Even with the vax, it’s still out there. Even with the vax, children still get it themselves. Especially with the vax, they are more likely to get shingles. See, so all the chicken pox vaccine (specifically) does is make the actual child getting the chicken pox less uncomfortable for now, but more uncomfortable later.

    • ER

      This is obviously a fairly old thread, but just to set the record straight on chicken pox; the varicella vaccine is a live virus. So, anyone who received the vaccine and goes to the grocery store or out to eat for up to a week afterwards is shedding the virus. They are contagious just as someone is with the actual rash and other symptoms. If someone who has been recently vaccinated comes into contact with an unvaccinated or immunocompromised person, the virus can be transferred. That’s actually exactly how one of my friends children contracted chicken pox, he attended daycare but wasn’t old enough to get the vaccine and right around the beginning of the school year, when all the older kids were getting their boosters, he ended up with chicken pox. This is also how elderly and anyone with a lowered immune system can contract shingles; it’s activated by the live virus. Before the vaccine, when children would get chicken pox they usually stayed in the house and didn’t take the virus out and older people would generally stay away from them, however now that there are seemingly well children shedding the live virus after vaccination, they can unintentionally pass it on. On that same note, chicken pox is usually highly contagious even before the rash appears, and is an airborne virus. I understand vaccines are a touchy subject, but the varicella vaccine specifically, was originally developed for children who have a compromised immune system, are undergoing chemo, or for some reason don’t contract the virus before adulthood.. mainly for those 100 people out of the 4 million who used to contract chicken pox (a generally mild disease in healthy children) each year that the virus could potentially be deadly for. If you think about it, it takes a lot of research money to develop a vaccine that’s only useful in a select group of individuals, so they started recommending it to even healthy children to save days missed at school or work or to sell another 4 million vaccines each year. Personally, I think it’s important for healthy children, especially girls to develop their own immunity, because so far studies have shown that anyone who has received the vaccine will need a booster about every 10 years.. So what happens when these children get to be young adults, and are in college and too busy to get their booster, or can’t afford to get their booster shot? Now, they have potentially serious complications from contracting the virus as an adult. As for girls, when they become of childbearing age they pass their own immunity onto their fetus during pregnancy and their newborn for the first few months of life. If they miss their booster shot or for some reason become susceptible to chicken pox and are exposed before 20 weeks, it poses a serious threat to the fetus in terms of deformities or death. So, just to sum all of that up.. I believe vaccines can be good when used as initially intended, when necessary to save the lives of children who couldn’t naturally protect themselves from some of these things, but routinely vaccinating healthy children for no other reason than to gain revenue, which in doing so could potentially cause more complications later in life is unnecessary and especially irresponsible on the part of medical professionals who routinely recommend it.

  5. KB

    Our daughter was vaccinated against varicella and still got the chicken pox. She and the other two kids (neither were vaccinated) at daycare got it at the same time. Her case was much milder than theirs, but she still got it.
    I doubt we will be vaccinating our son for varicella.

  6. I also think it’s super important if you are going to skip the chicken pox vax that you try to expose your child early if possible. Waiting until 14 years old and such makes for a very poor outcome. It’s much easier when they are little for some reason. I’d love to know why if anyone knows.

  7. Laura

    Regarding shingles: It is my understanding that you can ONLY have shingles if you previously had the chicken pox (the virus remains dormant in your body and becomes active again years later). You cannot “catch” shingles.

  8. leanne

    yes, they are now considering a booster of chicken pox vaccine as a late teen / young adult to prevent the shingles later because more people with the vaccine develop shingles later than people who have exposure to actual chicken pox in the “wild”

  9. leanne

    from University of Maryland website: “Children who catch chickenpox from family members are likely to have a more severe case than if they caught it outside the home. The older the child, the higher the risk for a more severe case. But EVEN IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, CHICKENPOX IS RARELY SERIOUS IN CHILDREN. ” (CAPS are mine for emphasis) Dawn, it was the death rate data (rate of death per rate of illness) as well as rate of serious complication such as coma, stroke, and so on that made me decline this one. NOT TO MENTION our own literature “promoting” it with rationale provided – the MAJORITY of the content related to “justification” and “rationale” had to do with the cost to productivity annually due to parental absences to look after children both exposed to and/or ill with chicken pox!!! I don’t make decisions about my child’s health and well-being based on the productivity of my nation due to taking care of children who are sick!!!

    • Totally agreed. And I hate even more that what that means is that more children will actually be going to school unaware that they have a mild case of chicken pox and exposing it to the two little boys with vastly compromised immune systems. If you just have it, you pretty much know. If the vax eliminated chicken pox, it would be a different story, worth considering to benefit the masses, but there is no actual benefit. If someone gets a mild case, it’s still the virus…. so it isn’t a weaker virus, it’s just that the child’s body has antibodies to fight it. So there is no real benefit aside from missing days of work.

  10. Jeanne

    I’m kind of benevolent on the whole thing. I’ll admit, I wasn’t wild about having my kids vaccinated for all the things added over and above what I had as a kid (I’m still pro MMR, DtAP, polio, and tetanus – if you live in the country, anyways – I actually put a rusty nail through my foot as a little girl, but that’s beside the point). That said, I wasn’t vaccinated for varicella as a child and yet I got a nasty case of borderline shingles at the age of 13. My mom tried to expose me to the pox several times over as a child “old school” and yet I never got it – until I was exposed when my immune system was already compromised with a nasty case of bronchitis. Fun, fun …

    I did decide to allow my kids to be vaccinated for everything for one reason: DH works with high-risk youth and routinely brings home a whole slough of fun pathogens (he actually routinely gets vaccinated against H1N1 to protect US). He also volunteers at the hospital as a chaplain in the post-op ward. The latest scare was when he had been exposed to MRSA. Let me tell you, that was exciting …
    All that being said, I don’t think a “one size fits all” approach is appropriate from either side. I don’t think most kids need the entire regimen administered today. I also don’t think it would be wise for children of medical, prison, or residential facility workers to go sans-vaccine altogether. I think each parent needs to carefully weigh exposure risk for each of their children.

    • MRSA isn’t nearly as scary if you deal with it naturally instead of with antibiotics. It’s dangerous if left untreated, but you can treat it naturally with thyme, oregano and clove. check out the proof on (keywords: thymol, carvacrol) Let me know if you want more info on that. It regularly comes back a few months later if you used antibiotics to get rid of it.

      BUt that’s a separate issue. Regarding your post, thank you for your thoughtful post. 🙂

  11. Pingback: “What a mess.” Part 3 of the Chicken Pox Vaccine Chronicles — Everything Birth's Blog on Midwifery, Attachment Parenting, Cloth Diapers and More

  12. Pingback: Shingles and Chicken Pox Vaccinations, Oh My…. — Everything Birth's Blog on Midwifery, Attachment Parenting, Cloth Diapers and More

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