In 1998, an 8-year-old girl was seen in the Emergency Department of a hospital. For several days she had low-grade fever and blisters appearing over her entire body. The girl had chickenpox. At first her mother was relieved at the diagnosis. Chickenpox is, after all, a mild infection. But then the child had progressive difficulty breathing. Her breathing became rapid, shallow and difficult. A chest X-ray showed that she had pus between her lungs and chest wall (called an "empyema"). The pus caused one lung to be constricted. The child was admitted to the intensive care unit, but it was too late. She died the next day.
Before the chickenpox vaccine, one or two children in this country would die every week from chickenpox — most of these children were previously healthy.
Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD on August 23, 2014