San Diego, California - A 51-year-old San Diego man died of complications from chickenpox on July 15, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency reported Wednesday.
The man had underlying medical conditions and became ill after exposure to a person with shingles, which is caused by the same varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox. This is the first reported death from chickenpox in San Diego since 2012, when a non-resident child died of the disease at a local hospital. The last San Diego County resident to die from chickenpox was a 50-year-old man in 2010.
“The best way to prevent illnesses caused by the varicella-zoster virus is for children to get two doses of the chickenpox vaccine and adults to get the shingles vaccine when recommended,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “These vaccines are very safe and effective.”
Chickenpox is not reportable to local public health departments unless it occurs in an outbreak or results in a hospitalization or death. There have been four outbreaks and 37 cases of chickenpox reported in San Diego County so far in 2016.
Chickenpox is easily spread by coughing, sneezing or being in contact with chickenpox blisters. Symptoms of chickenpox include a skin rash of blister-like lesions covering the body but usually more concentrated on the face, scalp, and trunk. The risk of complications increases after puberty and includes bacterial infection of skin lesions, dehydration and pneumonia.
Most, but not all, individuals with chickenpox have fever, which develops just before or when the rash appears. If exposed, persons who have been vaccinated against the disease may get a milder illness, with less severe rash and mild or no fever. The illness lasts about 5 to 10 days.
Shingles is a painful rash that develops in people who have had chickenpox. Shingles usually develops on one side of the body, often the face or torso. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and clears up within 2 to 4 weeks. For some people the pain can last for months or even years after the rash goes away. This long-lasting pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia, and it is the most common complication of shingles.
There is a small chance that a person with a shingles rash can spread the virus to another person who hasn’t had chickenpox and who hasn’t gotten the chickenpox vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine. Children should be vaccinated between 12 and 15 months of age and receive the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age.
CDC recommends shingles vaccine for adults over 60 years of age.
For more information on chickenpox, shingles and immunizations in general, please call the HHSA Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966 or visit the website at www.sdiz.org.