Doctors at George Washington University Hospital in Washington performed tests to find out the cause of Walters’ persistent fever. The results showed she had chicken pox.
“Barbara has the chicken pox,” said Barbara’s co-host on The View, Whoopi Goldberg, on Jan. 28. “She’d never had it as a child. So now she’s been told to rest, she’s not allowed any visitors. And we’re telling you, Barbara, no scratching!”
Although it’s a condition commonly associated with children, adults can contract the disease, and it can often be quite serious, even fatal in some cases.Thanks to a vaccine introduced in 1995, chicken pox among adults is rare. Only one in 10,000 American men and women are diagnosed each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Just like kids with chicken pox, adults are contagious from two days before they have a rash until the rash has fully scabbed over, which can take a week or longer, according to ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. Anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk for shingles, a painful skin rash caused by the same virus.
“Shingles occurs when the virus, lying dormant in your nerve roots, reactivates,” said Dr. Besser, adding that a shingles vaccine is available and recommended for all adults aged 60 and older. “The vaccine will cut in half your chances of getting shingles.”
David Nace, a physician in the geriatric division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said Walters’ chicken pox was extremely rare. “Ninety percent of the people who get chickenpox get it before age 13,” Nace told USA Today. “I have never seen a case in anyone over the age of 60. In medical literature, only a handful of cases are reported among people older than 60. When we were in training we’d come across a condition in the hospital and ask how common is this condition? The doctors would say you’ll see references to it on the first part of the board exams, the second part of the boards and the third part of the boards. Chickenpox occurring in someone in their 80s doesn’t even make the boards. That’s how unusual it is.”
Symptoms of chicken pox include a blister-type rash, itching, fever, and fatigue. It can be more severe in infants and adults because of the chance of contracting pneumonia, since the chicken pox virus affects the lungs.
Walters is considered a trailblazer for women journalists, having been the first woman to anchor the network evening news. She spent 10 years co-anchoring the Today show, and was on 20/20for 25 years. She has interviewed every U.S. president and first lady since the Nixons, and until several years ago, was a staple on Oscar night with her annual pre-show interview specials. Since 1997, she has been a co-host on the hugely popular morning talk show The View, which she also co-created.