Study: Chickenpox Causes Significant Loss in Productivity Each Year

They added that policy decisions around preventing and treating health conditions is important and should account for the indirect costs of the conditions as well.

Chickenpox in childhood results in a £24 million loss in income and productivity every year in the UK, according to a study by associate professorial research fellow Raphael Wittenberg and colleagues from the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Although the direct medical costs of chickenpox have been widely reported, less is known about the indirect societal costs of chickenpox, such as caring for a child with the virus, according to the study authors. They added that policy decisions around preventing and treating health conditions is important and should account for the indirect costs of the conditions as well.

The objective of the study was to estimate the indirect costs in terms of productivity loss in chickenpox among caregivers for children 15 years of age and younger in the UK, as measured by the number of working days lost caring for a child with chickenpox and the estimated cost to society of each working day’s output lost.

The research team analyzed all economic studies published in English that reported on the costs of chickenpox in any country or the costs of other childhood illnesses in the UK. In total, 23 peer-reviewed studies up to March 2021 were included.

Further, the researchers invited more than 1500 parents of children 1 to 11 years of age to complete an online survey to determine whether any of their children ever had chickenpox, and if so, whether they had missed school or nursery because of chickenpox. Additionally, they were asked how many days they had missed, and whether they, their spouse, or other family member had taken time off from work to care for their children with chickenpox and how many days.

In total, 1526 survey respondents reported on 2283 children, of whom 52% had previously contracted chickenpox. Approximately half of the children who contracted chickenpox missed days off school or nursery, and in around half of the cases, an adult took days off work to care for a child, missing approximately 5 days per child.

Working women were significantly more likely to provide care for sick children compared to employed men, and there was a larger gender difference for unemployed women and men. However, the numbers of workdays lost did not differ significantly by partnership status, ethnicity, housing tenure, household income, and whether the respondent was the solitary adult in the household.

As for productivity loss, the survey findings were applied to chickenpox incident data derived from general practitioner (GP) consultation rates, taking into consideration that not all cases of chickenpox are captured through GP consultations. The average income was then calculated using the survey respondents’ annual income for those who missed work, and data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings for family members who missed work.

The research team calculated the daily costs of lost productivity to be approximately £170, with an estimated 200,000 GP consultations per year for chickenpox.

“Chickenpox, while rarely causing serious illness, does lead to loss of days of school or nursery among young children and consequent loss of workdays by their parents. The resulting lost productivity should be considered when decisions are made about policies to prevent chickenpox,” Wittenberg said in a press release. “And since the number of children contracting chickenpox may greatly exceed the number of GP consultations, the true annual value of lost productivity is likely to be substantially higher than £24 million.”

Limitations to the study included the information not being completely accurate due to not being able to recall events and the number of respondents providing information on days of work taken off was far smaller than the sample size, according to the study authors.

REFERENCE

The true cost of chickenpox: at least £24 million in lost productivity a year in the UK. EurekAlert! April 24, 2022. Accessed April 27, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/950578