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31 July 2014

Chickenpox – not just a harmless childhood illness

WA Health has launched a six-week campaign to encourage all Western Australians – adults and children – to get vaccinated for chickenpox, amid concerns that many people mistakenly think the illness is harmless.

The campaign, the first of its kind in Western Australia, will employ radio and online advertising as well as posters and community announcements in Coles supermarkets, to reinforce the message that chickenpox is serious, with symptoms sometimes leading to hospitalisation or – in extreme cases – death.

Department of Health Communicable Disease Control Medical Coordinator Dr Paul Effler said Western Australia already had 213 reported cases of chickenpox in 2014, and data from recent years shows August tended to be the highest month for reports.

"Chickenpox needs to be taken seriously as it can make children very sick and cause serious health complications in adults," he said.

"We are concerned that parents are leaving their children to catch the disease in the natural environment rather than getting them vaccinated," he said.

"While most children who get chickenpox have a mild illness, some can become very sick and get infected chickenpox spots that can leave permanent scarring.

"In adults, chickenpox can be a painful and life-threatening illness, and is of particular concern for pregnant women and people with low immunity.

"In the three years from 2011 to 2013, more than 240 people (approximately 80 per year) were hospitalised due to chicken pox, and between 2007 to 2011 chickenpox was associated with eight deaths.

"I recommend any adult who does not remember having the disease as a child, get vaccinated – not only for their own sake, but also because chickenpox is highly contagious. When a person has chickenpox more than 90 per cent of their susceptible close contacts, such as family and friends will also catch it."

Dr Effler said that while the chickenpox vaccine was offered free as part of the national childhood immunisation program, it had a lower uptake than other vaccines on the program.

A recent survey conducted by WA Health found that 43 per cent of WA parents who chose not to immunise their children against chickenpox did so because they did not think chickenpox was a dangerous disease.

Travellers were at particular risk because the virus was prevalent in countries where the chickenpox vaccination was not available.

For more information look for chickenpox on the Healthy WA website (external site).

Media Contact: 9222 4333

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