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Strategies to control varicella vary across Europe. Evidence from established programmes has prompted the United Kingdom to re-evaluate the need for universal vaccination. The burden of complicated varicella is a key parameter in the cost-effectiveness analysis.


Our objective was to estimate the burden of complicated varicella in England.


This electronic health record surveillance study used data from all NHS hospitals in England to identify varicella admissions between 2004 and 2017. The incidence of pre-defined complications of varicella was estimated using ICD-10 codes. Inpatient costs were calculated based on the payment rules for providers of NHS services.


There were 61,024 admissions with varicella between 2004 and 2017 and 38.1% had a recognised varicella complication. Incidence of hospitalisation increased by 25% and the proportion with complicated varicella by 24% from 2004/05 to 2016/17. The most common complications were bacterial skin infections (11.25%), pneumonia (4.82%), febrile convulsions (3.39%) and encephalitis (2.44%). Complication rates were higher in older age groups and the type of complications more severe. Length of stay for complicated varicella was 3.1 times longer than for uncomplicated varicella and inpatient costs were 72% greater.


Complicated varicella has a substantial health and economic burden. These data together with data on impact on quality of life are important in informing the cost-effectiveness analysis of universal varicella vaccination.


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