Chickenpox - what your family can expect - Poll results

Weeks of disruption to work and family life were a recurring theme in the entries to a motherInc chickenpox poll. More than 360 mothers across Australia wrote about the impact chickenpox had on their families.

Chickenpox is generally a mild illness in healthy children but it can have potentially serious complications such as secondary skin infections, pneumonia and other complications that may result in hospitalisations.(see notes 1,2 below)

Chickenpox can occur throughout the year, although it is more common in spring and summer. (see 3 below).  Each year in Australia, almost 1,500 people are hospitalised because of chickenpox, and approximately seven people die from chickenpox every year.(see 1 below)

Two months of chickenpox

Mother-of-four Bree thought luck was on her side last July when only two of her children contracted chickenpox. Three-year-old Tyrel was the first to fall ill, four days ahead of his one-year-old sister Zarli.

Then her eldest daughter Teigan developed the infection, suffering high temperatures and constant vomiting. Two days later, her five-year-old son Zane also came out in the telltale spots.

“Teigan had great difficulty in sleeping so I was up practically all night for eight days straight.

“I was studying at the time but had to defer it because of all the time I was spending looking after the kids and my partner had to take time off work to assist.

“All in all we had chickenpox in our family for about eight weeks.”

Chickenpox complications led to hospitalisation

Sydney mother Nikki Fatovic's three young children developed chickenpox over a period of six weeks.

Her eldest daughter Jessica had to be hospitalised for five days after developing pneumonia.

"I stayed with her while she was in hospital so my husband had to take a week off work to look after our two other children," Nikki said.

"Then when Jessica got home from hospital she passed the infection to her sister and two weeks later, her brother developed chickenpox.

"I would definitely recommend vaccination to other parents given what we went through."

Mum missed work

South Australian nurse Lucy Fahey missed six weeks of work caring for her family who had developed chickenpox.

"I was feeling terrible and had no idea what was wrong – I could not believe it when the doctor told me I had chickenpox,” Lucy said.

"I was ill for about two weeks and then 11 days later my five-year-old got the infection followed by my two-year-old a fortnight later.

"Even though chickenpox is a mild disease I was basically unable to work, look after myself, or them, for six weeks!"

Lucy now has a two-year-old daughter and has had her immunised against chickenpox.

"The effort will be well worth it for her future."

Husband and two children caught chickenpox

Perth mum Carol had to take three weeks off work to care for her family after her husband and two children contracted chickenpox. Carol's son was the first to be diagnosed and was sick for about 10 days.

"Just as things were returning to normal my daughter Siena became ill," she said.

"She itched and scratched for another two weeks and then my husband got it.

"The kids were bad enough but a 40-year-old with it - no way!

"Get immunised is the message we now tell all our friends."

Children missed daycare and school

Two days before Tasmanian mother Sharmaine Kruijver was due to give birth to her fourth child, her three-year-old daughter caught chickenpox. Two weeks later her six and one-year-old caught it too.

"My six-year-old missed one week of school and my three-year-old missed two weeks of day care," she said.

"If my husband hadn't had time off for the baby I would have been pushed to my limits and would have needed a week or three in bed to recover!

"I now know that my fourth daughter will definitely be immunised against chickenpox!"

Chickenpox Christmas

For one family Christmas became a nightmare when Northern Territory mother Kim Strand’s daughter broke out in spots two days prior to Christmas day.

As her sister's husband had never had chickenpox they couldn't see them at all over Christmas because of the risk of transmission.

Kim and her sister had both just given birth in November, so they were very concerned about their babies catching chickenpox as well.

"We didn't get to spend Christmas Day together as a family. We had to share our parents at separate houses and have separate present opening ceremonies. After all that caution, my sister's husband broke out in spots about a week after Christmas Day anyway!"

Government funding

The Commonwealth Government provides chickenpox vaccination free for all children turning 18 months of age and for teenagers 10 to 13 years of age who are non-immune to chickenpox.

Vaccination is available through GPs and in most states, through council clinics and maternal and child health nurse centres. Vaccines are available on a doctor's prescription and cost around $50 to $60.

1.    National Health and Medical Research Council. The Immunisation Handbook: 8th edition. 2003: Page 278–90.
2.    Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 15th Edition 2001. McGraw Hill Chapter 183 RJ Whitley.
3.    McIntyre P, Giding H, Gilmour R et al. Communicable Diseases Intelligence - Supplement, May 2002