“Now you all know that she fell and cut her head 10 days ago and then was running a temperature, but it turns out that it’s all a result of, like, a delayed childhood thing, because Barbara has the chickenpox.”
That’s Whoopie Goldberg earlier this week on the ABC show “The View” joking about her 83-year-old colleague Barbara Walters, who’s contracted an illness that’s usually considered a childhood disease.
But chickenpox is no laughing matter for older adults who get it, says doctor Carmel Dyer of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
“If she’d gotten the primary infection, she would have been at risk for pneumonia due to chicken pox, or brain inflammation, or infection due to chicken pox, and both of those can be very serious and even kill an older adult.”
Primary infection means the actual chickenpox, which Dyer says more than 90 percent of adults have already been exposed to. But another type caused by the same virus is shingles, which anyone who has had chickenpox can get.
“The shingles that spreads over the body can cause a lot of pain. The lesions, the rash will go away but it can leave you with some long-standing pain — but generally it’s not lethal.”
Dyer recommends anyone over 50 or 60 years old get a shingles vaccination. She says a chickenpox vaccination is not given to the elderly because it’s a live virus that could actually cause the infection in people with weak immune systems.
The chickenpox vaccine was first introduced in the United States in 1995. Before that, each year 4 million people got the disease, according to the Center for Disease Control. Today, about 30,000 adults get chickenpox every year.