In a March 30 press release, the Baylor College of Medicine announced the findings of a major study on the connection between past infection with chickenpox and the chances of developing glioma, a type of brain cancer. Researchers reviewed data on over 8,800 patients and their results went online March 13. The data revealed a significant lessening of the chances for glioma in patients who had contracted chickenpox.
Previous studies had suggested similar findings. This study, Baylor states, is the largest on the topic. Patients who had contracted chickenpox had a 21 percent reduction in the chances of suffering a glioma. For more severe gliomas, the reduction in risk was even higher.
Chickenpox, or varicella, is a highly contagious viral illness. Prior to the development of a vaccine in the 1990s, nearly all children in the United States contracted the disease. Marked by fever and a very itchy rash, the illness can cause complications in patients with immune system issues.
In addition, the virus has an affinity for nerve tissue. It can reactivate and cause shingles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that one third of all Americans will suffer at least one outbreak of shingles.
The study found no relationship between shingles and a risk for a glioma.
The Johns Hopkins Glioma Center notes that gliomas are primary brain tumors. They have not spread from elsewhere in the body. Gliomas are described by the region of the brain where they are found.
Baylor quotes study author Dr. Melissa Bondy commenting on her work:
It provides more of an indication that there is some protective benefit from having the chicken pox
The risks from an infection with chickenpox are not to be minimized. The illness can be fatal, the CDC states. Patients with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of complications, as are pregnant women and their unborn children. For the unborn, a mother’s case of chickenpox can mean congenital varicella syndrome, or a neonatal varicella infection.