Rise in fatalities from chickenpox in the state; experts for more studies

Kerala records nine deaths in first 3 months of 2024 as compared to four in whole of 2023
Representative Image.
Representative Image.

KOCHI : Fatalities from chickenpox appear to be on the rise, with Kerala recording nine deaths in the first three months of 2024, compared with just four in the whole of 2023.

In the year to date, around 8,586 cases have been reported in the state. Among the deaths, four were reported in Palakkad and three in Ernakulam.

While it is generally considered a low-fatality disease, the increase in deaths from chickenpox is generating concern. Several factors could contribute to these fatalities, say experts.

“Age and associated comorbidities may have played a role in these deaths. Additionally, post-Covid syndrome, which entails various difficulties and complications following coronavirus infection, could exacerbate the condition of chickenpox patients. Furthermore, the risk of secondary infection, if left untreated, is also significant. It’s imperative that we investigate and address these issues to prevent further deaths from chickenpox,” says Dr B Ekbal, a public health activist.

Dr Bipin Gopal, assistant director of the state Directorate of Health Services, emphasised the importance of early medical intervention in preventing complications.

“While diagnosing chickenpox is relatively straightforward, timely medication is crucial in preventing complications and fatalities. Unlike earlier, antiviral drugs for treating chickenpox are now available. Individuals experiencing symptoms should commence immediate medication,” he advised.

Gopal also noted that despite the availability of modern medicines, a significant portion of the population still relies on traditional treatment methods and dietary plans.

Left untreated, chickenpox can lead to complications such as pneumonia and meningitis, which can affect vital organs and the brain.

“The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) responsible for chickenpox can result in severe complications. Hence, proper treatment and care are paramount,” emphasised Bipin. Individuals with underlying conditions such as diabetes, compromised immunity, or other age-related diseases are particularly vulnerable to worsening conditions, he added.

Climate change and alterations in vector components could also be contributing factors. “The increase in cases often correlates with climate fluctuations, as well as changes in vector behaviour. Since chickenpox is an airborne disease, measures should be taken to prevent its transmission,” Ekbal said.

Despite the rise in cases, no community-level outbreaks have been reported in the state. “While there’s no widespread outbreak, it’s essential for patients and their families to take precautions to prevent further spread. Adequate rest and isolation can help contain community transmission,” added Gopal.

Ekbal stressed the need for comprehensive studies to gather disaggregated data on age, comorbidities, and conduct death audits to identify the precise causes of complications.

Comorbidities a factor

  • Around 8,586 cases reported in state since beginning of 2024

  • Among deaths, 4 reported in Palakkad, 3 in Ernakulam

  • Left untreated, chickenpox can lead to complications such as pneumonia & meningitis

  • Those with underlying conditions, compromised immunity, or other age-related diseases vulnerable to worsening conditions

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The New Indian Express