Chickenpox is one of the ‘classic’ childhood diseases. Most children will catch it sooner or later.
Chickenpox is an airborne disease and is very contagious. The symptoms are:
– general mild flu like symptoms (headache, fever, tummy ache, and loss of appetite);
– followed a day or two later by hundreds of itchy, fluid filled blisters.
Once you have had chickenpox the virus is with you for life but kept in check by your immune system. However, the virus can flare up later in life in the form of shingles, especially if you undergo a period of stress.
Most cases occur in children younger than 10 and the disease is usually mild. Older children and adults often develop a more severe case of chickenpox.
Chickenpox can cause serious complications:
– a secondary infection of the blisters may occur if these are scratched and this can cause scarring.
– newborns are at risk of severe infection if the mother is not immune (i.e. she has not previously had the disease).
– other, rare, complications include encephalitis; Reye’s syndrome; and cerebellar ataxia.
As it is a virus, chickenpox can not be treated by antibiotics. In most cases a chickenpox infection can be left to run its course, however, it is advisable to treat the blisters to reduce the likelihood of them being scratched. To this end, it is advisable to trim the nails of young children and place scratch-mitts on babies to minimise scratching and reduce the chance of scarring.
Calamine lotion will help to ease the itching as will baking soda (bicarbonate of soda). When our toddlers caught chickenpox a friend suggested adding a little water to baking powder to make a paste and applying that to the blisters. As our son passed his chickenpox on to me I can verify that the baking soda does work! It was more effective than calamine lotion at reducing the itching.
Antiviral medicines have been developed and can help the fight against chickenpox if the medicine is started within the first 24 hours of the rash developing. For most healthy children antiviral medicine is not required, but teenagers and adults who are likely to experience a more severe dose, may benefit.
Others who could benefit from antiviral medicine are kids with eczema, lung conditions such as asthma, and those who have been prescribed steroids.