Chickenpox is a mild but contagious disease characterized by small, round, itchy lesions on your skin, sometimes accompanied by low fever and headaches. It is usually contracted by children and teens. Many parents fear it, which is why they agree to have their children vaccinated against chickenpox. But there is actually a safer and easier way to protect a child from chickenpox: getting adequate sun exposure.
Researchers from the University of London examined data from 25 studies on the virus that causes chickenpox, called varicella-zoster virus. They discovered that chickenpox rates are lower in tropical areas where sunlight exposure to sunlight is common year-round. In temperate regions, chickenpox also flares up more often during the cold-weather months, when there is little sunlight.
According to the researchers:
“One explanation for this seasonality could be the significantly higher levels in ultra-violet radiation (UVR) of approximately 10 to 25-fold seen in summer in temperate zones, which could inactivate virus either in vesicular lesions or after their rupture.” (link)
Dr. Joseph Mercola, an advocate of getting adequate sun exposure, says that the effect is likely two-fold. “Not only is sunlight able to destroy many viruses directly, but it also enables your body to produce vitamin D, which gives you further antiviral and immune-boosting benefits,” he says.
The Benefits of Sun Exposure
Many people use direct sunlight to dry their laundry because they believe that sunlight, which is a natural disinfectant, helps to get their clothes clean and fresh. Dr. Mercola says this same effect may occur on your skin, “disinfecting” viruses like chickenpox by breaking down their cell walls.
“As I’ve stated before, your body was designed to benefit from sunlight exposure. Given adequate levels, your skin is able to produce a wide range of infection fighting substances, including defensins, cathelicidin, and the lesser known cholesterol sulfate,” he adds.
People living in tropical areas are less likely to catch and spread chickenpox because their year-round sun exposure gives them healthy levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a very useful nutrient with benefits that go beyond bone health. It helps support different tissues and helps treat or protect against various diseases and health conditions, including the seasonal flu. Scientists have discovered at least 3,000 genes that are regulated by vitamin D.
“If you’re vitamin D-deficient, and many are, your immune system will not activate to do its job,” says Dr. Joe Mercola.
It is important to ensure that you are getting optimal levels of vitamin D to ensure that you are reaping its benefits. Your vitamin D serum level should be ideally between 50 to 70 ng/ml year-round. To learn more tips on optimizing your vitamin D levels, read Dr. Joseph Mercola’s article How to Get Your Vitamin D Levels to a Healthy Range.
In the case of chickenpox, though, Dr. Mercola warns that you should NOT try sun therapy if you already have itchy pox lesions. Sunlight may cause lesions and open wounds to scar. Your best option during this time is to take an oral vitamin D supplement every day. If you have chickenpox but without the lesions, then sun exposure is okay.
The Truth about the Chickenpox Vaccine
Chickenpox usually lasts for two or three weeks. When a child recovers from it, he gets a long-lasting immunity to the virus. Even so, many parents still prefer to have their child get the chickenpox vaccine, varicella, to combat this disease.
But the truth is that the vast majority of children who do NOT receive the chickenpox vaccine and who have negative or unknown chickenpox histories still become immune to chickenpox anyway. Researchers have concluded that most 10-year-old children are already immune.
In addition, it is actually more preferable to get chickenpox as a child than get it as an adult. Twenty percent of adults who acquired this disease actually developed serious complications, like brain inflammation, secondary bacterial infections, and pneumonia, due to underlying health problems or compromised immune systems. Meanwhile, only one percent of children with chickenpox experienced these complications. These reasons make it clear that avoiding chickenpox by getting a vaccine is severely problematic.
The chickenpox vaccine also poses several problems:
- It only provides temporary immunity, unlike the natural, long-lasting immunity you get after recovering from chickenpox.
- The chickenpox vaccine is not 100 percent effective. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimated that the vaccine was 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing disease when it was licensed for public use in 1995. Later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that this vaccine is only 44 percent effective against disease of any severity and 86 percent against moderate or severe disease.
- It may cause serious injury and death. Serious health problems including shock, encephalitis (brain inflammation), and thrombocytopenia (blood disorder) make up four percent of the reported adverse events (about one in 33,000 doses) after chickenpox vaccination. At least 14 deaths have also been reported.
Exposure to chickenpox by coming into contact with infected children also “boosts” your natural immunity not only from chickenpox vaccine but also from shingles, a painful and potentially dangerous disease. But due to the proliferation of the chickenpox vaccine, there is less chickenpox around to give children and adults a natural immune boost against shingles. This is why shingles rates are rising today.
Dr. Mercola advises parents not to panic when their child comes down with chickenpox. If your child is healthy, the illness will go away after two or three weeks with no medical attention. To relieve the itchiness, bathe your child in cold or lukewarm water with baking soda. Scratching the lesions will cause scarring or infection. Medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen are not recommended, because they cause severe side effects such as Reye’s syndrome and secondary infections.