Chicken Pox

Everything to Know About This Childhood Disease

Chicken pox was quite a common disease at one point in time, until the vaccine was made and became available in the year 1995 within the United States. In the early part of the 1990’s, according to an estimate, around 4 million cases were diagnosed with chicken pox. Around 10,500 to about 13,000 people were hospitalized, and around 100 to 150 people died every year.

Many people who had healthy constitutions, had to suffer and even face death due to severe symptoms and complications in chicken pox. But with the release of the vaccine for chicken pox, around 9000 hospitalizations and an estimated 3.5 million cases of chicken pox were prevented each year. Around a 100 deaths were also avoided by the effects of the vaccine.

What Is Chicken Pox?

Chicken pox has the medical name of Varicella and is in fact, a viral infection that is known to cause a blistery itchy rash. The red and itchy spots erupt on the skin, which then turn into blisters that are filled with fluid. These blisters then form crusty coverings and form scabs. These scabs eventually drop off with time, leaving scars.

This disease is highly contagious for people who haven’t been vaccinated against it or who haven’t had the disease ever in their life before. In the past, it was quite common for everyone to have suffered from chicken pox at least once before they reached adulthood, before the vaccine was introduced and used by the population. Some cases were quite mild while others were severe, with red blisters all over the body.

Chicken pox is known to last for around 5 to 10 days.

Symptoms of the Disease

Most of the symptoms are quite clear and make it easy to identify the attack from the virus.

Some of the symptoms and signs of this uncomfortable disease include,

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • General feeling of being unwell or malaise
  • Apparent loss of appetite

These symptoms are known to appear around 1 or 2 days before the rash. The rash is the first glaring sign and signal that you might have chicken pox.

The telltale chicken pox rash appears and it has to go through the following three phases,

  • Raised red or pink bumps called as papules appear, which break out over the entire body over the course of several days
  • Vesicles which are fluid filled blisters, generally formed from the raised papules, for about one day or more, before they start to break out and leak.
  • Scabs and crusts appear to cover up the broken blisters, and all this takes a number of days to heal completely

The new red raised bumps continuously appear for several days, so the patient will have to experience all three stages of the chicken pox rash, which are the bumps, becoming blisters and leading up to scabbed lesions, at the same time!

Contagious Nature of Chicken Pox

Chicken pox is highly contagious. A person can contract the varicella infection when they are exposed to the virus. The infection can take around 10 to 21 days to fully develop and start showing observable symptoms.

A person infected with chicken pox virus has been found to be contagious to about a couple of days before the appearance of the rash all over the body. The patient remains contagious to the point that all of the spots finally crust over, and all the blisters have completely scabbed.

Since chicken pox is so contagious, it is advisable to quarantine or isolate the patient at the very first signs of the infectious disease. While most vaccinated people will not contract the disease, but anyone who hasn’t ever had chicken pox, hasn’t had proper vaccinations and especially kids, are at high risk of contracting the uncomfortable and sometimes, severely dangerous disease.

High Risk Groups and How You Can Contract the Disease

Chicken pox is caused by the varicella zoster virus, and being highly contagious, it is known to spread rather quickly. Since the virus spreads easily, it puts certain groups of the population at high risk of suffering from the disease.

The varicella virus has been noted to spread and transmit through direct contact with the red body rash and by the dispersed droplets within the air, because of sneezing and coughing.

There are certain high risk groups, which have a greater probability of being exposed to and suffering from the contagious disease. These are those who,

  • Haven’t suffered from chicken pox ever
  • Have not been vaccinated against the varicella virus
  • Live with or around children
  • Regularly attend or visit a child care facility or a school
  • Pregnant women who haven’t had chicken pox

Most of the population is found to be immune to the virus if they have either had chicken pox or have been duly vaccinated for it.

Preventive Measures

To prevent exposure and infection to the varicella virus, it is important to get the vaccine. Adults and children, who have been vaccinated against the virus, develop immunity towards the disease. Even if a vaccinated person gets infected, they will only experience mild symptoms of the disease, with no risk of any complexities or severely dangerous conditions developing in the course of the illness from chicken pox.

For effective protection, children should be given the vaccine when they are just 12 to 15 months old. A second booster shot needs to be given when the child is around 4 to 6 years of age.

Treatment Methods

The treatment methods for patients suffering with chicken pox require steps to be taken to make them comfortable during the illness. Following are some treatment options,

  • Completely avoid scratching or rubbing of the itchy areas
  • Keep the patient’s fingernails short in order to make sure that they don’t damage their skin due to scratching
  • Patient needs to wear light and loose clothes
  • Rough wooly clothes should be avoided, especially around itchy areas
  • Application of a soft soothing moisturizer after taking a bath, helps to soften the skin and keep it cool
  • Avoid exposure to humidity and excessive heat for a long time
  • Using hydrocortisone cream, which is easily available over the counter, on the itchy areas for relief

Medications are also given by doctors and usually started within 24 hours of the appearance of the rash. But it is important to know that,

  • Doctors do not prescribe antiviral medication to healthy children who are not showing any severe symptoms
  • The antiviral medications have been found to be quite effective with patients who have certain skin conditions like sunburn, eczema, asthma or have taken any steroids
  • Certain doctors also prescribe medications to people who contract virus symptoms from being in the same household. This is due to the idea that these people have a chance of developing more severe symptoms

How to Deal With the Symptoms

It is important to know that aspirin should never be given to children to treat their fever in chicken pox. The reason being that the use of aspirin in this condition has been known to lead to a dangerous disease called Reye syndrome, where the condition might deteriorate to liver failure and eventually, death.

Since chicken pox is a very uncomfortable illness, it is essential to make sure that the patient does not try to scratch or rub the itchy areas. High fever also causes unrest, and the patient mostly suffers inconvenience, which can be reduced a little by following these steps,

  • Applying calamine lotion on the itchy areas of the body, but not on the face or near the eyes
  • Just pat dry and don’t rub any part of the body to make it dry
  • Use cold and wet compresses on the body
  • Take baths in lukewarm to cool water, every 3 to around 4 hours for the first couple of days of the disease
  • Use of certain oatmeal bath products help to relieve the itchy sensations and don’t spread the rash
  • Asking the doctor to prescribe any pain relief creams for use to ease the soreness and discomfort in the genital areas
  • In case of mouth blisters, use of acetaminophen on a regular basis can help to relieve the pain
  • Consult the doctor before using any over the counter medications for the itching sensation
  • Take soft, cold and bland food. Avoid acidic and salty food

Vaccine for Chicken Pox

Referred to as the varicella vaccine, this shot is a way to protect the population from getting exposed and infected from the varicella-zoster virus. This vaccine is prepared from the live yet weakened virus.

Two doses of the varicella vaccine are recommended for 98% protection from the chicken pox virus, for children, adults and adolescents.

Warning Signs of the Disease

The warning signs of chicken pox include the telltale rash. The spots are a clear sign that you have the infection and have been exposed to the varicella virus. Other signs include headaches, flu like symptoms, stomach ache, exhaustion, pain in the blisters, loss of appetite, and unsightly blisters from head to toe.

At the first indication of these signs, you need professional medical help at once.

© Teresa Boardman, Nanny Options.


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