Barbara Walters Chickenpox at 83: Is She in Danger?

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2013 12:20 PM

By Charlotte Libov

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Barbara Walters, host of TV’s “The View,” remains hospitalized with a rare case of adult chickenpox, a disease that can be serious, even life threatening, a top internist tells Newsmax Health.  
 
“Getting chickenpox as an adult is so rare that we consider anyone who is 50 years old to be immune from it. But Barbara Walter’s case shows this isn’t always true,” said Marc Leavey, M.D., a board-certified internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
 
Walters, 83, has been hospitalized for 10 days following a fainting spell. On Monday, it was announced that the ABC News icon had chickenpox.

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Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and the disease used to be a rite of passage for American children before the chickenpox vaccine became available in 1995.  
 
Chickenpox typically results in blister-like rashes, itching, and fatigue. Only five percent of those who get chickenpox are adults, but they account for 33 percent of hospitalizations and a disproportionate number of deaths compared to children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
 
Complications from chickenpox in adults include encephalitis, which is a serious brain inflammation, and pneumonia.
 
“The big one would be pneumonia, especially in the elderly,” said Dr. Leavey. “This is because the immune system in the body of an 80-year-old is not as responsive as a 40-year-old’s,” Dr. Leavey noted.
 
Adults who have not had chickenpox should get vaccinated, said Dr. Leavey.
 
“Many people who think they never had chickenpox actually did – they just may not remember it,” said Dr. Leavey. Or the disease may have been so mild that it went unnoticed. “You can have chickenpox as a child with little more than one pock mark on the back of your throat and a mild fever and that’s it,” he added.
 
For those who are uncertain, a simple blood test can tell if they ever had chickenpox. “If an adult, to the best of his or her knowledge, does not think they ever had chickenpox, they should go to their physician and get tested. If the test shows they are not immune, then it’s a good idea to get the vaccine,” Dr. Leavey said.
 
Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. It occurs when the dormant chicken virus that a person had as a child is re-activated when they are older, manifesting itself as shingles.
 
Shingles causes an extremely painful rash. Although not life-threatening, shingles can cause serious complications, including severe nerve pain and vision problems.

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There is a vaccine available for shingles. It is not known whether it protects against chickenpox in people who have never had the disease.
 
Meanwhile, Walters seems to have avoided the most dire symptoms of adult chickenpox and she expects to be released soon from the hospital. “We love you, we miss you,” said one of her “View” co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg.
 
In a statement, Walters said she wanted to “thank all the people who have called, written, and been concerned about me.”

© 2014 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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