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Deaths from chickenpox in England and Wales 1995-7: analysis of routine mortality data

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 10 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1091
  1. Helen Rawson, research assistanta,
  2. Amelia Crampin, lecturerb,
  3. Norman Noah, professor (norman.noah{at}
  1. a Guy's, King's College, and St Thomas's Hospitals School of Medicine and Dentistry, London SE1 8AW
  2. b London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  1. Correspondence to: N Noah
  • Accepted 14 July 2001


Objective: To evaluate the epidemiology and impact of mortality from chickenpox in England and Wales.

Design: Review of death certificates from the Office for National Statistics on which codes for “chickenpox” or “varicella” were mentioned. Further information ascertained from certifying physician.

Participants: Those certified as having died from chickenpox in England and Wales, 1995-7.

Main outcome measures: Diagnosis and age and sex distributions of deaths from chickenpox.

Results: On average, 25 people a year die from chickenpox. Overall case fatality was 9.22 per 100 000 consultations for chickenpox. Adults accounted for 81% of deaths and 19% of consultations. Deaths were twice as common in men as in women. More of those who died were born outside United Kingdom than expected (12% v 4%).

Conclusions: Chickenpox is not a mild disease. Deaths in adults are increasing, both in number and proportion.

What is already known on this topic

What is already known on this topic Chickenpox can be fatal, especially in immunosuppressed people and adults

The age distribution of cases has been shifting upwards for about 30 years

What this study adds

What this study adds About 80% of deaths certified as due to chickenpox are due to chickenpox

Chickenpox accounts for about 25 deaths annually in England and Wales, more than from measles, mumps, pertussis, and Hib meningitis combined

Mortality in adults has been increasing for at least 30 years and now 80% of deaths from chickenpox are in adults

Deaths were twice as common in men as in women


  • Funding Pasteur Merieux MSD for studies of chickenpox morbidity and mortality.

  • Competing interests NN received a grant and funding for a research assistant from Pasteur-Merieux (manufacturers of a chickenpox vaccine) and has been reimbursed in part for attending a conference.

  • Accepted 14 July 2001
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