Background: Varicella vaccine was approved for use in Canada in 1998. A major goal of universal varicella vaccine programs is to reduce severe infection and associated complications. Baseline data are essential against which to judge the effectiveness of routine childhood immunization.
Objective: To describe morbidity and mortality among children hospitalized for chickenpox. Methods. From January 1, 1991, to March 31, 1996, chickenpox admissions to 11 pediatric referral centers were actively identified. Patient and illness characteristics were compared for 3 subgroups defined by prior health: healthy; unhealthy but immunocompetent; immunocompromised.
Results: Of 861 cases 488 (56.7%) were healthy, 75(8.7%) were unhealthy and 298 (34.6%) were immunocompromised. The immunocompromised children differed from healthy/unhealthy cases in mean age (6.4 vs. 4.0/4.6 years, respectively, P < 0.0001); median interval from rash onset to admission (2 vs. 5/5 days, P < 0.0001); complication rate (20% vs. 90%/79%; P = 0.001); and rate of acyclovir therapy (98% vs. 24%/39%; P = 0.001). Unhealthy vs. healthy cases had a higher frequency (P < 0.01) of intensive care (13.3% vs. 4.7%), ventilation (9.3% vs. 2.0%) and death (4% vs. 0.2%).
Conclusion: These data provide a baseline for morbidity/mortality resulting from chickenpox before varicella vaccine use in Canada.