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What Is Chickenpox?

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 7, 2020 10:12:48 AM / by Calvin Leong

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. This type of virus cannot be treated with antibiotics. It once was a common childhood disease until a vaccine was invented to prevent it.

The first clue that your child may have chickenpox is the large number of bright red spots on his or her skin. Your child can have as many as 250 to 500 red spots and will be infectious for 48 hours before the spots appear and until all the blisters are dried and crusted. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Chickenpox?

You may not know your child has chickenpox at first. The red spots usually appear 10 to 21 days after catching the virus. In milder cases, the most noticeable symptoms are the red spots, which appear in stages on your child’s stomach, back, and face before spreading to his or her entire body. In more severe cases, the spots can move inside your child’s throat, eyes, certain urinary parts, buttocks, and vagina. The spots begin as raised bumps, turn into fluid-filled blisters, and end as scabs. They are extremely itchy. Scratching causes the blisters to break open and could lead to infection and scars.

Your child also may have flu-like symptoms for several days before the spots appear. These symptoms include a fever between 38° and 39° Celsius , drowsiness, a poor appetite, headache, a sore throat, and stomach ache.

572px-Child_with_chickenpox

What Causes Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by a virus called the varicella zoster virus. You can catch it by coming into contact with someone who is infected.

How Is Chickenpox Diagnosed?

Your doctor can generally tell if the red dots are chickenpox. He or she may check for other flu-like symptoms. Your doctor also can test the blood or test a small sample from one of the red dots. You should call your doctor if your child:

  • has difficulty breathing
  • has a fever that lasts for more than four days or spikes beyond 39° Celsius
  • has blisters with yellow fluid coming out from the sores
  • has blisters that feel warm or look swollen
  • has a severe headache
  • is unusually sleepy or has difficulty waking up
  • is bothered by bright lights
  • has trouble walking
  • is confused
  • is vomiting, is extremely nauseous or has a stiff neck

Can Chickenpox Be Prevented Or Avoided?

Getting your child vaccinated at the recommended age of between 12 and 15 months old and a booster vaccination between ages four and six is the best prevention. It is 85% percent effective in protecting against the virus. On rare occasions, people who get the vaccine may still get chickenpox.

If you know a child who has chickenpox or was recently exposed to the virus, keep your child away from that friend or classmate. Likewise, keep your child at home once you know he or she has chickenpox to minimize spreading it to others. Chickenpox is an airborne virus, and also can be spread through mucus, saliva, or by touching the fluid from the blisters.

Adults who escaped chickenpox as a child, but have not gotten the vaccine, are at risk of exposure to the virus. Adults can get the vaccine with the booster soon after. Getting the chickenpox puts you at a higher risk of getting shingles, a painful skin condition that lays dormant until you get older. Shingles also appears as an itchy, sore rash with blisters.

If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, you are at a higher risk of complications from chickenpox.

 Get your child vaccinated to prevent him from getting chicken pox.

How Is Chickenpox Treated?

A virus causes chickenpox, so antibiotics are not helpful in treating this type of germ as antibiotics are meant to fight against bacteria. Doctors might prescribe an antibiotic if the spots become infected from scratching. This will depend on the age and health of your child, as well as how severe the chickenpox has become in a five or seven-day period. The best your doctor can offer are solutions to treat the symptoms. For the itching caused by the blisters, your doctor may suggest applying a cool, wet cloth to the blisters. Do not rub the sores as they will break open. Cool or lukewarm baths may also help. Many people find that lotions and bathing products made with oatmeal relieve itching. Using calamine lotion on areas below the face also can provide relief from itching.

If your child has mouth blisters, be sure to give him or her foods and drinks that are cold, soft, and bland to avoid causing the blisters to break open. The same care should be taken with acidic and salty foods. Topical pain relief creams approved by your doctor can also help. Keeping your child from scratching the sores will be a big challenge. Having them wear mittens or socks on their hands will reduce the damage from scratching with their nails.

Do not give your child aspirin, due to the increased risk of Reye syndrome, which can cause liver failure and death. Paracetamol is an acceptable oral pain relief medication.

Smiling brunette applying some cream on her arm against a white background

Living With Chickenpox

For the short time you have chickenpox, there’s little you can do other than to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Follow the guidelines in the treatment section and limit your exposure to others.

References:

CDC: Managing People at Risk for Severe Varicella. CDC website. Updated July 1, 2016. Accessed Jun 20, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/hcp/persons-risk.html

CDC: Varicella. In: Hamborsky J et al, eds: Pink Book: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation; 2015:353-76. Updated August 11, 2015. Reviewed May 30, 2018. Accessed Jun 20, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/varicella.html

LaRussa PS et al: Varicella-zoster virus. In: Kliegman RM et al, eds: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:1579-86

Woo TM: Post exposure management of vaccine-preventable diseases. J Pediatr Health Care. 30(2):173-82; 2016

 

For more information on managing chickenpox, visit:

Free Chickenpox Vaccination for eligible Singaporean children

Chickenpox - Symptoms and Treatment Options

Updated on 4 August 2020 by CaregiverAsia.

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Topics: Wellness

Calvin Leong

Written by Calvin Leong

Calvin Leong holds a Master in Medical Education from the University of Dundee, United Kingdom. He has 15 years of clinical and lecturing experience focusing on Traumatology, Medical Sciences and Mentoring in Healthcare. Calvin is also a Train the Trainer certified by HRDF, Malaysia and a Life Member of The Malaysian Association for the Study of Pain (MASP). In his free time, he enjoys coffee with a slice of cheesecake.

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