Watch CBSN Live

Chickenpox no longer a deadly disease? What CDC vaccine study says

chickenpox, chicken pox, generic, 4x3
chickenpox, chicken pox, generic, 4x3 istockphoto

(CBS/AP) Folks who fear the worst when a family member gets chickenpox can breathe a sigh of relief. The chickenpox vaccine has nearly eliminated deaths from the viral illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the government first recommended the varicella vaccine for all children starting in 1995, deaths from chickenpox have fallen dramatically, especially in children. They study was published in the July 25 issue of Pediatrics.

CDC researchers looked at national records for deaths attributed to chickenpox. In the five years before the vaccine, an average of 105 Americans died of the virus annually. By 2007 - 12 years after the vaccine - the annual death toll had dropped to 14, and almost all were adults.

"To see the near elimination of chickenpox deaths in this country is very exciting," said study co-author Jane Seward, a CDC official who has been involved in the agency's chickenpox vaccine program for 15 years.

The vaccine deserves credit for the decline in children's deaths, Seward said. She thinks it's also likely the vaccine cut adult deaths because there are fewer infected children around to spread it to adults

Chickenpox is highly contagious disease caused by the varicella virus. Symptoms include an itchy skin rash and fever, but some people suffer complications like skin infections, swelling of the brain and pneumonia. Severe cases are more common among teens and adults who get it for the first time. Symptoms can reactivate in people later in life, causing the painful illness shingles.

The CDC has more on chickenpox.