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Could Barbara Walters' Chicken Pox Have Been Prevented?

needle doctor

Legendary broadcast journalist Barbara Walters probably should have been vaccinated against chicken pox, experts say.

Yesterday, it was announced that the 83-year-old, who never had chicken pox as a child, remains hospitalized with the virus. While vaccinating children against chicken pox is routine, the vaccine is also recommended for adolescents and adults who haven't previously had the disease. (The chicken pox vaccine first became available in 1995.)

Dr. Robert Glatter, an attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital's Department of Emergency Medicine in New York City, said adults who aren't sure if they have ever had chicken pox should speak with their doctors about being vaccinated. But he would encourage them to get the vaccine if there's any question that they might be susceptible to the disease.

"There's no downside to it," Glatter said. Older adults who develop chicken pox are at greater risk for complications, including pneumonia, high fever and breathing problems, he added.

The chicken pox vaccine isn't perfect, but studies show that 70 to 90 percent of adults who get the vaccine will be fully protected against the disease, Glatter said. People who develop chicken pox despite receiving the vaccination will typically experience milder symptoms, Glatter said.

Catching chicken pox as an adult is extremely rare; 75 to 90 percent of chicken pox cases occur in children under age 10, Glatter said.

Typically, a person develops chicken pox after coming into contact with an infected person.  It's also possible for people who've never had chicken pox to catch the disease from  someone who has an active shingles rash, Glatter said. (Shingles, which affects adults, develops when the long-dormant chicken pox virus becomes active again.)

A shingles vaccination, which is recommended for people ages 60 and over, would not necessarily protect against chicken pox, Glatter said.

Pass it on: Chicken pox vaccination is recommended for children, and for adults who've never had the disease.

Follow Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner, or MyHealthNewsDaily @MyHealth_MHND. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Rachael Rettner
Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a masters degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.