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J Pediatr. 1996 Oct;129(4):529-36.

Children hospitalized for varicella: a prevaccine review.

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Division of Acute Communicable Disease Control, County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services, California 90012, USA.



To describe varicella complications in healthy and previously ill children hospitalized for varicella and to explore trends in group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus complications of varicella.


A retrospective record review of children hospitalized for varicella between January 1, 1990, and March 31, 1994, was conducted in nine large acute care hospitals in Los Angeles County, California.


We identified 574 children hospitalized for varicella in study hospitals during the 4.25-year study period (estimated risk of hospitalization, approximately 1 in 550 cases of varicella); 53% of the children were healthy before the onset of varicella and 47% were previously ill with underlying cancers or other chronic illnesses. Children were hospitalized for treatment of complications (n = 427, 74%) or for prophylactic antiviral therapy or observation (n = 147, 26%). Systems involved in complications included skin/soft tissue (45%), neurologic (18%), respiratory (14%), gastrointestinal (10%), and hematologic, renal, or hepatic (8% or less). The mean age of children with skin/soft tissue infections was 2.7 years (range < 1 to 16 years) compared with 4.7 years (< 1 to 18 years) for other complications. Children with skin/soft tissue and neurologic complications were more often previously healthy (p < 0.05), whereas those with respiratory complications were more often previously ill (p < 0.001). Hospitalizations for skin/soft tissue infections increased during the study period. The proportion of complications as a result of group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus infection increased from 4.7% before 1993 to 12.2% for the remainder of the study period (p = 0.02).


Prior health status was predictive of the type of complications experienced by children with varicella requiring hospitalization. Our data suggest a recent increase in skin/soft tissue complications of varicella requiring hospitalization and an increase in the proportion of complications related to group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus. Wide-scale vaccine use should reverse this trend and reduce the overall impact of varicella on both healthy and previously ill children.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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