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Senior Health

Childhood Diseases that Can Affect Adults

Many childhood diseases can actually cause worse symptoms for adults than children. Adults may even find themselves requiring hospitalization for serious symptoms beyond the rash or fever a child may get. The good news is that many adults are immune from most childhood diseases either because they had them when they were young or because they had immunizations as a child.

The challenge is that some adults may not know if they have had a particular childhood disease or vaccination, especially if their parents have passed away or family medical records are not easily accessible.

And some of us just didn’t come down with all of the typical diseases when we were young, or didn’t get immunized. So now, as adults, are we at risk for greater complications if we are exposed?

What should you be most concerned about?

Chicken Pox

What’s the danger to adults? This very contagious childhood disease is much worse if contracted as an adult. Not only will adults get the itchy rash and fever, but they are more likely to contract pneumonia and other complications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults in the US are about 25 times more likely to experience serious complications from chicken pox infections than are children. It is estimated that of adults who contract chicken pox, some 20 percent will get pneumonia and another 10 percent will get shingles. Other issues such as encephalitis (brain inflammation) and hepatitis (when your body’s immune system attacks its own liver) occur but are rare.

What’s your risk?

  • Older people, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are at greater risk for complications should they contract chicken pox and not have immunity.
  • If you don’t have immunity (you didn’t get chickenpox as a child or didn’t get the vaccine), the CDC and dozens of other governmental health and aging related agencies recommend you should get the vaccine now. The vaccine works in over 90 percent of people.
  • Even if you were infected as a child – or had the vaccine – you can still be at risk for shingles. The chicken pox virus can remain dormant in the body for years and reactivate itself in later life. Shingles is an incredibly painful localized rash and can also damage a person’s vision. The CDC estimates there are one million new cases of shingles each year, with about half of the cases occurring in people 60 years or older. There is a vaccine available for shingles that is recommended after age 60.
  • The chickenpox vaccine is associated with fewer risks for adults than catching chickenpox itself.