The announcement that 83 year old TV journalist Barbara Walters was hospitalized with chickenpox (also known as varicella) proves that you are never too old to contract what is generally thought to be a disease of childhood.
In 1995, routine vaccination became available to prevent varicella, reducing the incidence to 1 in 10,000 Americans each year.
Prior to that, most individuals developed the highly contagious airborne viral infection before age 10 by coming in contact with other children with the disease.
Typically, a person with chickenpox becomes contagious 1 to 2 days before itchy blisters appear all over their body. They remain contagious until all the blisters have crusted over.
Despite recovery from a bout of chickenpox, the virus usually remains dormant or asleep in the body over one’s lifetime. About 1 in 10 adults will have shingles when the virus reemerges during a period of stress.
Those who catch chickenpox as teenagers or adults are at greater risk for complications including pneumonia, high fever, breathing problems and even death.
There are two ways for susceptible individuals like Barbara Walters (those who never had it as a child or have never been vaccinated) to catch the disease: either exposure to someone with chickenpox or exposure to someone with an active shingles rash.
Walters was apparently exposed to a friend who had shingles.
The lesson here is that you’re not too old to be susceptible to chickenpox if you’ve never had the disease or never been vaccinated against it. If that’s the case, you should talk to your doctor about getting the chickenpox vaccine
Health experts admit that the chickenpox vaccine isn't perfect, but studies show that 70 to 90 percent of adults who get the vaccine will be fully protected against the disease. Moreover, those who develop chicken pox despite receiving the vaccination will typically experience milder symptoms.
A shingles vaccination, which is recommended for people ages 60 and over, would not necessarily protect against chicken pox.
Barbara Walters was very lucky. She has completely recovered from her bout with chickenpox and will be returning to her TV show The View on Monday, March 4.