It’s not even winter anymore in Europe, but this week news broke of a dramatic outbreak of chicken pox in 11 European countries and one in Africa, as well as several previous outbreaks. We don’t yet know what the problem is or how it began, but what we do know is this could get expensive — fast.
Cases of chicken pox, or chickenpox, vary wildly in severity. Chicken pox is the most common disease among young children and is often only mildly to moderately contagious. Fewer than 10 percent of cases require any type of treatment other than ones to relieve the pain.
Yet depending on when and where you get chicken pox, an adult has a 90 percent chance of having missed between $460 and $1,000 of wages for the nine months prior to being first infected, according to Harvard Injury Control Research Center. All told, the lost wages during an average 10-month period are estimated to be around $800,000. And if the child involved is older than 9, said center director Dr. William Schaffner, it’s now as expensive as a car crash. “[The lost wages] are likely to rise dramatically in the future because a large cohort of 6-year-olds is at risk for chicken pox,” he said.
The burden of missed income usually falls on the children of mothers with a history of chicken pox, said Dr. Lisa Hullinger, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, one of the few countries that track the impact of chronic illness on mothers. The incubation period for chicken pox is typically three weeks, with the first symptoms typically manifesting around 10 days later.
To come up with a yearly loss projection, Schaffner recommends using a 13 percent propensity score, a number derived from a mathematical calculation based on the number of years a woman’s job had been going before she gave birth. With one third of U.S. families in the labor force, around 65 million women’s annual wages would translate to around $81 billion. That’s before considering the lost or tacked on future wages.
“This burden on families is enormous,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who offered the Senate’s first resolution on the topic last July, calling on employers to be more caring to their employees during their recovery. “It’s devastating. It’s significant on a macro level. On a family level, this can make your life,” she said.
Recent studies in pediatricians’ offices nationwide have illustrated the adverse economic effects of missing work due to chronic illness. One study found that, due to opioid addiction, doctors miss 2 million days of work each year, as well as 66,000 per day for those affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other neurocognitive disorders. Another, conducted in Springfield, Mass., found that nearly 80 percent of missed work was due to injuries sustained from patients’ mental health conditions, chronic pain, and substance abuse.