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My Patient Died of Chickenpox

My Patient Died of Chickenpox

A 3-year-old boy developed chicken pox in 1998. His older sibling had it at the same time. The younger child had a mild case with relatively few lesions.

Four days before admission the 3-year old became sleepy and developed a headache. Two days later he developed increasing lethargy, vomiting, drowsiness and disorientation. He was taken to our community hospital. He had a lowered level of consciousness, responding slightly to pain. The next morning he had shaking movements, probably due to acute herniation of the brain due to swelling. He became comatose, was transferred to a major medical center, and pronounced brain dead two days later. Life support was discontinued, and he died. The autopsy confirms a diagnosis of varicella encephalitis.

At the time of his illness, varicella vaccine was not available in British Columbia.

A footnote: the mother of this child was devastated by his death.  She has refused to set foot in our hospital again because of the unbearable memories, and plans to deliver her next child in another city.

Last modified: 
Jan 4, 2019