Background: Clinicians who offer varicella vaccination to school age children face the dilemma of whether to serotest or vaccinate presumptively. Varicella seroprevalence among 7- to 12-year-old children with negative or uncertain histories has not previously been studied. Our main objective was to describe varicella seroprevalence among children ages 7 to 12 years with a negative or uncertain history of chickenpox.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of children whose clinicians had ordered varicella serotesting. Guidelines from the medical group's regional pediatric infectious disease specialists recommended obtaining varicella serology on all children 7 to 12 years old with a negative or uncertain history. Parents were interviewed by telephone about the child's history of chickenpox before test results were completed.
Results: Varicella seroprevalence ranged from 9% among 7-year-olds whose parents said they had definitely not had chickenpox to 68% among 11-year-olds whose parents were not sure whether they had had chickenpox. Among children whose parents were uncertain about their chickenpox history, almost one-half (48%) were seropositive. Twenty-five percent of children whose parents said they definitely had not and 32% of children whose parents said they had probably not had chickenpox were seropositive. Of parents whose children had experienced serotesting, 73% said they would prefer to have the blood test first rather than presumptive vaccination. For a large health maintenance organization, it was projected to be most cost-effective (in terms of cost per chickenpox case prevented) to recommend testing for children 9 to 12 years old with uncertain histories of chickenpox.
Conclusions: We conclude that among children 7 to 12 years old with negative or uncertain histories of chickenpox, varicella seroprevalence ranges from 9 to 68% depending on age and clinical history. Parents are generally receptive to serotesting, although individual preferences vary. In the population we studied it would be most cost-effective to recommend testing before deciding about vaccination for children 9 to 12 years old with uncertain histories of chickenpox.