Is Chicken Pox Common Anymore?

Updated on August 10, 2015
L.G. asks from Windsor, CT
19 answers

Cutting to the chase w. a few questions. Is chicken pox common? Can you get it from passive contact? (i.e., outdoor parks, stores, etc.) In my day, chicken pox usually started in school and spread to close contacts from one there. Never heard of anyone getting it outside of prolonged periods of contact. I want to wait until close to school age before vaccinating for CP. Is that too risky? Will be get it from brief encounters? Thank you. Please be gentle... I havehealth anxiety.

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answers from Seattle on

I vote a big YES here...just a few weeks ago a Non-Vax kid contracted Chicken Pox, attended training, another girl who had been vaccinated but who was exhausted, then came down with it, so both girls missed a lot of training and many parents are upset with the non-vax mom.

The bottom line, the vaccine also protects a person from horribly painful shingles outbreaks later on. You really are better getting the vaccine. Chicken Pox is still going around.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

2 kids in my daughter's 1st grade class last year had it. They were vaccinated. Supposedly it was not too bad though. Kids can get it from going to the park and playing with others. I am glad mine never got it because I have never had them even though my sister, brother and best friend had them at the same time. I remember it was summer so was not from school.

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answers from Tampa on

Yes, it is pretty contagious. I don't believe that it is as common anymore because there is a vaccine. I am 41 and the vaccine was not available when I was a kid. I caught them from my best friend when I was in 7th grade. It was absolutely awful and miserable. I was out of school for well over a week and it was terrible to deal with. Yes, it is a childhood disease and it usually isn't fatal, but it IS horrible for the child that has it. The vaccine is NOT stupid. I will never understand the concept of wanting your child to get something that causes them so much discomfort.

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answers from Boston on

I dont know what to tell you but I didn't come down with the chicken pox until I was 30 from a 51 year old coworker (yes,chicken pox not shingles)....and neither one of were happy campers particularly my coworker (he caught it from his schoolaged daughter)....So, from personal experience, neither my former coworker nor i feel this vax is a stupid one....but that's just me.

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answers from Boston on

It's not as prevalent because most people get vaccinated, which is great. It's a miserable, horrible disease (I still remember my own misery many years ago), and while my scars aren't too bad (not located in super obvious places), I used to be very sensitive about them and I do wish I didn't have them. But I didn't have the choice "back in the day" - I'm so glad those choices are available now.

Both of my stepdaughters had it - one was miserable with hundreds of small lesions and horrible itching (she spent hours in cornstarch baths), and the other had few lesions but they were deep and vicious, very painful when the water from the shower hit them and they did leave her with multiple scars.

Chicken pox is highly contagious in brief exposure - it's transmitted through the air droplets. So if you're in a store and the person in front of you has it (even though the person may not have symptoms), if they sneeze, you could be exposed. That's how it spread through schools. It's not the "prolonged period of contact" - it's the one sneeze, the one moment of sitting next to someone who has it but doesn't yet have symptoms (which can be a period of weeks). That's why it spreads through schools, because kids sit with 1 kid and have lunch with another and stand in the recess line with a 3rd and are on the bus with a 4th. It's not the prolonged contact at all - it's the large number of people one interacts with. So going to parks and stores and playgrounds and church and so on just magnifies the chances.

It's the same with measles - since people stopped vaccinating, it spreads like wildfire - there was a big outbreak in California from Disneyland (which is ilk ethe outdoor parks you mention), and in Massachusetts we had problems last year because an unvaccinated person who contracted measles went into a grocery store and then to a medical center and sat in a waiting room. So these are not "passive" situations at all.

There's also a connection to shingles so read up on that as well.

Here's the info from the CDC website:

Please discuss this with your pediatrician about when to vaccinate for all diseases, and which vaccines can be scheduled flexibly and which cannot. Be sure your info is correct and not based on scary articles or talk show personalities with no basis in fact. Some pediatricians are open to this discussion, and others will not permit unvaccinated people to be in their practice because every single visit puts infants at risk. So you may have to find a new doctor - the time to do that is NOW. You want to start your search before it's critical. If you choose a pediatrician who does not require vaccinations, find out how they handle waiting rooms - you could go in for a regular well visit or something like possible strep throat (the "usual" childhood issues) and be in a waiting room with someone who is contagious. Find out what protections are in place. If there are none, then always schedule the very first appointment of the day, even if it means you have to wait a while to get one.

In most cases, the anxiety that you and many others have should be much higher for not vaccinating than for vaccinating, unless your child has specific immune system issues. Infants are usually the ones who are not vaccinated, but if you have an older child who is not yet in school, you need to consider what your reasons are for not vaccinating until later, because he/she will remain at risk for longer than if you vaccinated on the regular schedule.

And be sure to let your friends know (neighbors, family, play groups, library story hour) that you are not vaccinating - it's only fair to them to give them that info so they can make their own decisions. It's giving them the same respect you are asking people to give to you.

My son was in the chicken pox trials in RI (about a 45 minute drive from our house in MA) - we found out about it from a friend who is a pediatric specialist at that hospital. We were just thrilled to be a part of it - while data was lacking from the US, there was plenty of solid data from other countries, so that reassured us. That was over 20 years ago and in all that time, there has never been a problem with the varicella vaccine.

I respect your concerns and your anxiety. It's so hard to get a handle on anxiety especially if you have had problems in the past or if you really have magnified risks. There's so much information (and misinformation) out there, and we are all trying to do the best for ourselves and our kids. If you need professional help to deal with anxiety, please reach out and get it - there is plenty of support for you, and there are many techniques for navigating this.

Good luck.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We got the vaccine for our daughter when she was around 2 and it was a pretty new vaccine.

Little did we know that we would expose her elementary school with the pox at age 11 after spring break. We were on vacation and I assumed her small rash was something else because she had been vaccinated! Nope... She had a very light case. I suppose she was exposed just before we left for vacation or got it while on vacation.

I know now they give a booster about 10 yrs post the initial vaccine.

I'm pro vaccine with all of the routine vaccines. However, we don't participate with flu or Guardisil vaccine.

Try to get control of your anxiety and figure out why you're so anxious. You'll be healthier in the long run.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Not as common but still common enough.
Yep, it's highly contagious - brief encounters are enough to spread it.

Chicken pox is a thoroughly miserable disease - I had it when I was a kid - I still have a few scars from it (I'm 53 now).
I (and my sister) had horrible fevers and pox everywhere - in my mouth and ears, on my scalp, arms, legs, torso, behind - you name it.
Mom stood us in the bath tub and slathered on the calamine lotion - it didn't help at all.
When the vaccine came out I was so glad our son will never have to go through what I went through.
He's had the vaccine - all of them.
Getting it is miserable at any age - why wait?
Get your kid(s) vaccinated now.

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answers from Columbia on

Yes, it is still common. And yes, it's contagious.

If you have health anxiety, you should vaccinate your kids for Varicella and ensure they get the boosters. It's not just about you and your kids, it's about protecting those who are immunocompromised and cannot be vaccinated and protect themselves. Participating in herd immunity helps us all.

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answers from Washington DC on

Yes, it is still common. It's not as common because it's a required vaccine to have before starting school. I don't see any benefit in delaying something like this, so getting it not only protects your child, but others who may not be able to get it.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Immunity to chicken pox typically requires a dose early, and then a booster before school starts in order to get good immunity. So, the problem with your plan is that if you wait until just before school age to get the 1st one, then there won't be time for the booster. Which means that they won't be fully protected when they go to school.

I know this was not your question, but it's food for thought for you.

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answers from Washington DC on

IMO, you need to discuss these concerns with your pediatrician and try not to be overly afraid for your child.

Some people still get chickenpox and some of those people have been vaccinated. My neighbor (a friend and pediatrician) had 2 breakthru cases with her eldest daughters, but the younger girls haven't gotten it. My DD had 1 of the 2 recommended shots at the time and had played with her girls and did not get the chickenpox. When I was a child, my mother would send me to people's houses to try to get it early (as it is worse if not contracted as a child) and I didn't get it until someone's got it at school and it spread there. I wouldn't say it's the hardest thing to get, but not the easiest, either. I had a fairly minor case. My sister had it worse. I'm sure that had a vaccination been available she would have preferred it as she was pretty miserable. Some children get them on their eyelids or down their throat.

I would not worry about playgrounds. I would worry about children who may not have been vaccinated. MOST children get through it just fine if contracted and even if it is a breakthru case, MOST children have a very very mild form.

I think your kid will be OK, but you should talk to the doctor about your child's specific needs and your concerns.

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answers from Wausau on

Chicken pox is one of those very communicable things. By the time a person shows symptoms, they've already been contagious for a week or two, so any habitually busy place, such as a grocery store, is a common encounter point.

One thing to keep in mind about the vaccine is that it requires two doses. The normal schedule is 12-15 months and the second is 4-6 years. If you're going to delay until closer to school age, the second dose can be given as soon as 3 months after the first. If your aim is to space out injections, you'll need to consider the 'double dose' thing in your timing plan.

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answers from Boston on

Chicken pox is pretty rare now due to the vaccination. My kids weren't vaccinated until it was required for them to go to school and non has contracted it. It's not a high-risk disease anyway so if one of your kids was to catch it from someone else they would most likely be just fine. I should add that I'm one of the parents who thinks this vaccination is pretty stupid so take that for what's it worth...

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answers from Indianapolis on

The vaccine wasn't out when I was a kid either so I got my exposure from my mother who is a teacher. A kid in her class had it and she brought it home to me. She didn't know the kid at it at the time. Unfortunately I got a lot of illnesses from her kids. Ummm..

Anyway I had my daughter vaccinated because I remember how miserable I was and I was 4 when I had them. A friend of mine had her daughter vaccinated and she go chicken pox anyway. It was a mild case and didn't itch like the chicken pox of old but since she had the vaccine she wasn't hit as hard.

Good luck with your decision.

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answers from Washington DC on

it's not very common right now, but it could be again due to parents questioning some vaccines (which i think is sensible- not every new vaccine is Awesome.)
if i had a child right now, i'd definitely hold off the CP vaccine until the shingles link has been thoroughly researched. it's so, so hard to get accurate information now, with both the pro and con sides of the vaccine debate being so very very shrill.
i'd definitely do all the vaccines that involve killers. i would not do gardasil, flu or chicken pox.
but chicken pox is crazy contagious. no need for prolonged periods of contact. one sneeze and boom!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Chicken pox is not common in the US anymore because of the vaccine. I had it as a kid in the 1970s (not a big deal for me or my sister) and I was hoping that my kids would get it naturally and have it over and done with (and natural immunity). They haven't gotten it. I will not be giving them the shot though.

The UK declined to add the CP shot to their recommended vaccine list because they predicted it would cause an increase in Shingles, which is exactly what's happening in the US. So over there, CP is a normal part of childhood.

The problem with the CP vaccine is that it's causing SHINGLES in young, young children. Shingles is far more painful than CP. And in one local case I know of, the little 7 yr old boy is getting Shingles every 6 months now. A 23-yr-old I met told me she had the Shingles TWICE from the CP shot and almost lost vision in one eye.

And the CP vaccine is made from aborted fetal tissue and has human DNA remnant. There is no ethical alternative. One stem cell researcher has argued that childhood cancers have risen a great deal since aborted human fetal cell lines have been introduced to vaccines since the 1980s. (Google Dr. Theresa Deisher and Sound Choice)



answers from Philadelphia on

Just to clarify. For some people, 1 dose of the vaccine is enough to give a person protection from the disease. There is a percentage of people that need a second dose. I had my daughter's titters checked (simple blood test) My one daughter needed a second dose my other daughter did not.
Doctors typically recommend giving everyone a second dose although they may not need it.



answers from Anchorage on

We don't see many cases here, but her have high vaccination rates here.


answers from Springfield on

i'll weigh in on the shingles and CP connection. i got shingles and the day after my dr confirmed it dd (who had been half vaxed for CP) got a super mild case of CP. so they are connected.
i kept my shingles covered and wouldn't let the kids touch that area (even while covered) and dd still got the CP (even with half a vax.) her dr said its not all that uncommon for youngsters to get a mild case of CP because that first vax does not fully protect them, its the booster shot they get that completes the vax.

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