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Int J Infect Dis. 2006 Mar;10(2):156-61. Epub 2005 Nov 2.

Chickenpox complications in Saudi Arabia: Is it time for routine varicella vaccination?

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  • 1Department of Infection Prevention and Control, King Abdulaziz Medical City-King Fahad National Guard Hospital, PO Box 22490, Riyadh 11426, Saudi Arabia.



Varicella zoster (chickenpox) infection is a common and benign disease of childhood. The predominance of uncomplicated cases in children tends to overshadow the morbidity associated with severe cases and the resultant hospitalization.


The objective was to establish the complication rate of chickenpox in the Saudi National Guard population over a 2(1/2)-year period.


All reported cases of chickenpox at the King Abdulaziz Medical City, Riyadh were prospectively followed for development of complications during the period between 1 June 2001 and 30 December 2003.


A total of 3802 cases of chickenpox were reported and followed during the acute illness phase. The majority of cases, 2984 (78%), occurred in children less than 15 years of age. Among all chickenpox cases, 78 (2%) required hospitalization, and 50 patients developed 58 (1.5%) complications. Skin and soft tissue infections were the most common complications, 20 (34%), followed by pneumonia in 16 (28%), bacteremia in six (10%), encephalitis in four (7%) and necrotizing fasciitis in four (7%). Complications were less common in children (36/2984, 1.2%) as compared to adults (14/818, 1.7%) (p = 0.26). However, pneumonia (p = 0.03) and hospitalization (p = 0.004) were more common in adults as compared to children. The overall fatality rate was 0.05%; two patients died, one aged two months the other 28 years.


These data provide a baseline for morbidity and mortality from chickenpox, and further support the inclusion of varicella vaccine in the routine childhood immunization program in Saudi Arabia.

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