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11-Month-Old Suffers Stroke After Contracting Chicken Pox From Unvaccinated Siblings

I remember when I got chickenpox decades ago. It was awful and I wanted nothing more than for it to go away, but in between calamine applications, my parents reminded me it was a good thing I caught it when I was so young.

Growing up, parents wanted their children to get infected while they were really young so they could become immune to the disease, which is caused by the varicella zoster virus, before they become adults.

Seriously, some families would encourage their kids to mingle with a friend who has the pox so they too could catch the disease.

"You definitely want to be immune to chickenpox before you become an adult, when it's much worse, so parties were a good idea before the vaccine was introduced," says Rodney E. Willoughby, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin told Parents magazine.

Nowadays, doctors are frowning upon this practice because not only is there a safe and effective vaccine to prevent and protect your child from the disease, but exposing them to such a dangerous virus can lead to some serious health issues.

Although it doesn't happen often, some children with chicken pox can end up with severe complications like pneumonia, encephalitis (brain swelling), toxic shock syndrome, bone and joint infections, bacterial skin infections and even death.

In the case of one 11-month-old, he suffered a stroke after getting infected by the virus.

The Journal of Pediatrics revealed that the little boy was exposed to the virus by his siblings, who weren't immunized and had the disease a few months prior.

The unnamed baby, who had no underlying health issues, was taken to the emergency room after his mother noticed that his right arm and leg were weak when he woke up from his afternoon nap. Doctors also noted that he was having difficulties moving his face, a symptom of a stroke.

Thankfully, the boy survived, but he is likely to have "some type of neurologic sequelae," or even another stroke "if his arterial disease continues to worsen," according to Dr. Tina Tan, a chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University.

"Everyone thinks it’s a minor illness. There are a number of serious complications,” she explained to Today. "Basically, the chickenpox virus infects the large blood vessels in the brain and causes inflammation in them. The blood vessels can scar and that can decrease blood supply to the brain, which can lead to stroke."

Since the baby was too young to be vaccinated (they have to be older than one), experts believe that the only thing that could've prevented the boy's illness from becoming so serious was if his older siblings were given their shots.

More parents have been opting out of vaccinating their children, which has resulted in a slight spike of chicken pox outbreaks.

For parents who are worried about vaccines causing developmental disorders like autism, the American Academy of Pediatrics is reassuring them that there is no link between the two.

"Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature,” the association explained. "Vaccines keep communities healthy, and protect some of the most vulnerable in our society."

The CDC also noted that while a child might experience slight discomfort from a vaccine, it's a minor price to pay in order to avoid the "devastating effects" of diseases like measles or polio.

As we enter back-to-school season, doctors are urging parents to make sure their children's immunization records are up to date. This is not only important for the well-being of your child, but for their classmates and friends too.

All 51 states have vaccination requirements for public school and daycare children. In California and Michigan, it is mandatory that all school-age children get the proper shots before they are allowed into public and private schools.

However, exemptions are made based on religious and philosophical beliefs. In certain states, parents are required to submit a written affidavit to prove that "their belief is not a political, sociological or philosophical view of a merely personal moral code,” in order to opt out.

In some of the states that allow for exemptions, an unvaccined child may be temporarily removed from school in the event of an outbreak.

Do you think states should allow exemptions for vaccinations? Sound off in the comments!

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.