Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The burden of varicella from a parent's perspective and its societal impact in The Netherlands: an Internet survey

Judith H Wolleswinkel-van den Bosch1*, Anouk M Speets1, Hans C Rümke2, Pearl D Gumbs3 and Sander C Fortanier3

Author Affiliations

1 Pallas, health research and consultancy BV, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

2 Vaxinostics BV, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

3 GlaxoSmithKline, Zeist, the Netherlands

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:320  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-320

Published: 17 November 2011



Varicella is a common childhood disease. Only 5% of first varicella-zoster-virus infections occur asymptomatically. Most data on the burden of varicella stem from health service databases. This study aims to provide insight in the burden of varicella from a parent's perspective including cases outside the healthcare system.


An internet questionnaire was developed for parents in the Netherlands to report health care resource use and productivity losses during the varicella episode in their child younger than 6 years. 11,367 invitations were sent out to members with children of an internet panel of a market research agency. 4,168 (37%) parents started the questionnaire (response rate), of which 360 (9%) stopped before completion and 1,838 (44%) were out of the target group. In total 1,970 parents completed the questionnaire. The questionnaire provided a symptom list ranging from common symptoms, such as skin vesicles, itching to fits or convulsions. A posteriori, in the analyses, the symptoms 'skin infections', 'fits/convulsions', 'unconsciousness', and 'balance and movement disorders' were labelled as complications. There was no restriction to time since the varicella episode for inclusion in the analyses.


The 1,970 respondents had in total 2,899 children aged younger than six years, of which 2,564 (88%) children had had varicella. In 62% of the episodes the parent did not seek medical help. In 18% of all episodes symptoms labelled as complications were reported; in 11% of all episodes parents visited a medical doctor (MD) for a complication. Reporting of complications did not differ (X2 ; p = 0.964) between children with a recent (≤ 12 months ago) or a more distant (> 12 months) history of varicella. Prescription drugs were used in 12% of the children with varicella; OTC drugs in 72%. Parents reported work loss in 17% of the varicella-episodes (23% when MD visit; 14% when no MD-visit) for on average 14 hours, which equals to 2.5 hours of work loss for any given varicella-episode.


This study shows the full spectrum of varicella-episodes and associated healthcare use, including the large proportion of cases not seeking medical care and the societal impact associated with those cases.