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Chicken Pox in Elderly Poses Greater Health Risk


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — Viewers heard a few giggles Monday when Whoopie Goldberg announced her co-host, 83-year-old Barbara Walters, had contracted chicken pox — a disease most common in children.

But doctors say, at her age, developing chicken pox is no laughing matter.

“It is generally more severe and there are more complications than if you get it in childhood,” says Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief of Infectious Medicine at Baystate Health.

While extremely common in children, chicken pox is rare in the elderly — mainly because most people have already contracted the disease by they time they reach adulthood.

Goldberg says Walters never contracted chicken pox as a child. Now in her 80s, she’s at a greater risk of developing more severe symptoms.

“So you can get a high fever and you can get involvement of the lung,” says Dr. Skiest. “You can get pneumonia, you can get trouble breathing and cough, it can be severe in some cases.”

If you can’t remember contracting chicken pox as a child, a blood test can tell you if you’re at risk.

“It’s a very simple test to see if they have antibodies to the chicken pox virus, which is called varicella,” says Dr. Skiest. “And if they have antibodies to it, then they should be protected.”

If you are at risk, doctors encourage getting the chicken pox vaccine, which is safe for children and adults.

Doctors say between 70 and 90 percent of adults who get vaccinated will be completely immune to chicken pox. If you still end up getting the disease, your symptoms will be very mild.


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