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Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases
Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages 21-26
Original Article

Severe Complications Associated with Varicella: Province of Quebec, April 1994 to March 1996

Paul Rivest, Lucie Bédard, Louise Valiquette, Elaine Mills, Marc H Lebel, Gilles Lavoie, and John Carsley

1Direction de la santé publique de Montréal–Centre, Canada
2Montreal Children’s Hospital, Canada
3Hôpital Sainte–Justine, Montréal, Québec, Canada

Received 18 January 2000; Accepted 10 April 2000

Copyright © 2001 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


OBJECTIVE: To determine the frequency and severity of serious complications associated with varicella in Quebec; the frequency and severity of cases of congenital varicella; and hospital costs associated with hospitalizations for varicella.

STUDY DESIGN: All hospitalizations related to varicella were identified through the use of a hospital data bank and pertinent data were collected from hospital records.

SETTING: Province of Quebec with a population of 6,895,960 people.

STUDY POPULATION: All cases with a principal or secondary diagnosis of varicella hospitalized in Quebec between April 1, 1994 and March 31, 1996.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Types of complications and reason for hospitalization, risk of complications and calculation of associated costs were studied.

RESULTS: Nine hundred nine eligible hospitalizations were identified between April 1, 1994 and March 31, 1996. In all, 583 (64.1%) hospitalizations were for the treatment of complications, 127 (14.0%) for administration of intravenous acyclovir and 199 (21.9%) for supportive care. Healthy people accounted for 644 (70.8%) hospitalizations and immunosuppressed individuals for 136 (15.0%). Among children, one-half of the principal complications were skin infections, while 13.5% and 8.4% of principal complications were pneumonia and neurological complications, respectively. Among adults, the most common complication was pneumonia, with a rate of 43.5%, followed by thrombocytopenia and skin infections, with rates of 22.2% and 14.8%, respectively. The complication rate was 29.2 cases/10,000 cases of varicella.

CONCLUSIONS: Although perceived as a benign childhood disease by the general population, varicella may be accompanied by severe complications. Morbidity associated with varicella is one of the elements that must be considered when evaluating the usefulness of varicella vaccine.