Chickenpox in children costs £24m in lost income and productivity in the UK

Chickenpox in children costs £24m in lost income and productivity in the UK
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Surprising data reveals the impact that chickenpox in children has on income and productivity every year in the UK.

Chickenpox in children results in £24m in lost income and productivity each year in the UK, although the true cost is likely to be higher. This study suggests that working women are far more likely to provide care for children with the condition than men.

The direct medical costs of chickenpox have been widely reported, however,  the indirect societal costs of chickenpox in the UK are less known. Thus, the researchers aimed to highlight the indirect costs of chickenpox in children in policy decisions relating to prevention and treatment.

The research was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Lisbon, Portugal (23-26 April 2022). The study was conducted 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), UK.

Productivity and income loss associated with chickenpox in children

The researchers conducted a study to estimate the indirect costs, in terms of productivity loss, of chickenpox in children aged 15 years and younger in the UK. They measured this 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.

Scientists first considered all the economic studies published in English which reported on the costs of chickenpox in children 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 in the analyses.  The team did not discover any papers on the indirect costs of chickenpox in children in the UK.

The investigation

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

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

1,526 respondents confirmed 2,283 cases of chickenpox. 591 of the children who had chickenpox missed days off from school or nursery. In around half of these cases, an adult took days off work to care for a child, missing on average five days per child. 72% of adults were working women who took time off work compared to employed men at 55%. The research team also discovered a large gender difference between unemployed women (32%) and men (18%).

Estimating costs

To estimate the national cost of productivity loss, survey findings were applied to chickenpox in children incident data derived from GP consultation rates, taking into account that not all cases of chickenpox are captured through GP consultations.

The average income was calculated using 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. Employers’ costs – national insurance and pension contributions – were also included.

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

“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,” said 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 £24m.”

The authors noted that since survey respondents are liable to recall bias of events, some information may not be completely accurate. And while the overall sample size was large, the number of respondents providing information on days of work taken off was far smaller. There were also limited responses from individuals in certain subgroups.


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