London School of Economics and Political Science: The true cost of chickenpox: at least £24 million in lost productivity a year in the UK

Chickenpox in childhood results in £24 million in lost income and productivity every year in the UK, although the true cost is likely to be higher, according to new LSE research.

This research, presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Lisbon, Portugal (23-26 April), examines the indirect societal costs of chickenpox in the UK, separately from the more commonly identified direct costs of medical care.

Researchers estimated the indirect costs in terms of productivity loss of chickenpox among children aged 15 years 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.

To investigate how chickenpox impacts childcare arrangements, researchers invited over 1,500 parents of children aged one to 11 years to complete an online YouGov survey.

Participants were asked whether any of their children had ever had chickenpox, and, if so, whether they had missed school or nursery because of chickenpox, and how many days they had missed. They were also asked whether they, their spouse or other family member had taken time off from work to look after their children with chickenpox and, if so, how many working days they had missed.

In all, 1,526 survey respondents reported on 2,283 children, of whom 52 per cent had at some point in their lives contracted chickenpox.

Almost half of the children who contracted chickenpox missed days off school or nursery. In around half of cases, an adult took days off work to care for a child—missing an average of five days per child. Among respondents, 72 per cent of working women were likely to provide care for sick children, compared to 55 per cent of employed men.

The researchers calculated that the daily costs of lost productivity were around £170, and there were around 200,000 GP consultations per year for chickenpox. They used the figures to estimate that the total cost of annual productivity losses due to chickenpox in the UK are around £24 million.

“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” says lead author Associate Professor Wittenberg. “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.”

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