Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is a highly infectious disease that usually causes an itchy red rash and blisters. It is one of the most common childhood diseases and can affect adults as well as children; in adults the disease is worse. Most children can fully recover in two weeks. The disease can cause ongoing problems in adults and children with lowered immunity. The disease can turn into Shingles (herpes zoster) and can cause scarring, pneumonia and bacterial skin infections.
Chickenpox is spread through any human contact, those who have chickenpox are infectious before the spots begin to appear, which is why it is highly contagious. The person is contagious until five days after the spots first appear and approximately two days before the sport appear.
Scarring is extremely common for those who have chickenpox, as the spots become itchy and when scratched too much they scar. If you scar easily it is important to not scratch and use medication to easy itchiness.
Immuisation with the chickenpox vaccine can protect your child from developing the chickenpox illness and possible related serious medical complications. Serious side effects or allergic reactions to the vaccine are rare, but if you are concerned it is important to speak to a doctor about the vaccine.
Immunisation is important for children who have not had chickenpox, the vaccine can protect them against serious complications associated with the chickenpox illness and can help prevent developing shingles later in life. Immunised children, who do get chickenpox, generally have a much milder form of the disease, have fewer skin grazes and a lower fever, which means they can recover quicker.
The chickenpox vaccine is provided free to babies and some children in Australia. The age for eligible children varies between states. In Victoria the vaccine is free for all babies up to 18 months of age and in year seven secondary school students can have a catch-up immunisation if they have not received the vaccine before or have not already had chickenpox. Others that wish to can purchase the vaccine with a prescription.
The common reactions to immunisations are usually mild and occur soon after immunisation and are short lasting. Treatment is often not required. A mild temperature can also occur after all vaccines. It is common that any injection will result in soreness, redness, itching and swelling at injection site for one to two days after and sometimes a hard lump may persist for some weeks or even months.
The Chickenpox Vaccination can cause a temperature rise to 39 degrees celsius, chickenpox-like rash (two to five spots) may develop five to 26 days after immunisation, usually at injection site, occasionally other parts of the body in up to 5% of children. This mild dose of chickenpox may occur after vaccination, as the vaccine is not fully effective in every person.
If reactions do occur place a cold or wet cloth on the injection site, provide extra fluid and do not overdress, paracetamol may even be required to ease discomfort, but still check the label for correct use.
The chickenpox vaccine works as it contains a weakened form of chickenpox (varicella-zoster) and works by causing the body to reproduce its own antibodies to protect against the disease. The vaccine is injected under the skin of the upper arm or thing, as a single dose for babies and as two doses, two months apart, for those aged 14 years or older.
The Victorian State Governments, Better Health Channel website states that people who benefit most from immunsiation include, infants and children, adults especially parents with young children and those who work in at-risk occupations such as teachers, childcare works and health care workers. Adults and young children who are not immune (children and adults who are known to have had chickenpox are considered to be immune) should also consider the chickenpox vaccine.
The vaccine should not be given the adult or child has an allergic reaction to the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine or if you or your child has an allergic reaction to the vaccine or any ingredients contained in the vaccine or if they suffer from an abnormal blood condition or severe infection. It is also important not to have the injection if the child has had another live virus-containing vaccine within the last month, such as vaccine for measles, mumps or rubella.
Symptoms of Chickenpox
Chickenpox causes a red, itchy rash on the skin that usually appears first on the abdomen or back and face, and then spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, nose, ears, and genitals.
The rash begins as multiple small, red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites. They develop into thin-walled blisters filled with clear fluid, which becomes cloudy. The blister wall breaks, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs.
Chickenpox blisters are usually less than a quarter of an inch wide, have a reddish base, and appear in bouts over 2 to 4 days. The rash may be more extensive or severe in kids who have skin disorders such as eczema.
Some kids have a fever, abdominal pain, sore throat, headache, or a vague sick feeling a day or 2 before the rash appears. These symptoms may last for a few days, and fever stays in the range of 100°102° Fahrenheit (37.7°38.8° Celsius), though in rare cases may be higher. Younger kids often have milder symptoms and fewer blisters than older children or adults.
Typically, chickenpox is a mild illness, but can affect some infants, teens, adults, and people with weak immune systems more severely. Some people can develop serious bacterial infections involving the skin, lungs, bones, joints, and the brain (encephalitis). Even kids with normal immune systems can occasionally develop complications, most commonly a skin infection near the blisters.
Anyone who has had chickenpox (or the chickenpox vaccine) as a child is at risk for developing shingles later in life, and up to 20% do. After an infection, VZV can remain inactive in nerve cells near the spinal cord and reactivate later as shingles, which can cause tingling, itching, or pain followed by a rash with red bumps and blisters. Shingles is sometimes treated with antiviral drugs, steroids, and pain medications, and in May 2006 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine to prevent shingles in people 60 and older.
A virus causes chickenpox, so the doctor won't prescribe antibiotics. However, antibiotics may be required if the sores become infected by bacteria. This is pretty common among kids because they often scratch and pick at the blisters.
The antiviral medicine acyclovir may be prescribed for people with chickenpox who are at risk for complications. The drug, which can make the infection less severe, must be given within the first 24 hours after the rash appears. Acyclovir can have significant side effects, so it is only given when necessary. Your doctor can tell you if the medication is right for your child.
Dealing With the Discomfort of Chickenpox
You can help relieve the itchiness, fever, and discomfort of chickenpox by:
Using cool wet compresses or giving baths in cool or lukewarm water every 3 to 4 hours for the first few days. Oatmeal baths, available at the supermarket or pharmacy, can help to relieve itching. (Baths do not spread chickenpox.)
Patting (not rubbing) the body dry.
Putting calamine lotion on itchy areas (but don't use it on the face, especially near the eyes).
Giving your child foods that are cold, soft, and bland because chickenpox in the mouth may make drinking or eating difficult. Avoid feeding your child anything highly acidic or especially salty, like orange juice or pretzels.
Asking your doctor or pharmacist about pain-relieving creams to apply to sores in the genital area.
Giving your child acetaminophen regularly to help relieve pain if your child has mouth blisters.
Asking the doctor about using over-the-counter medication for itching.
Never use aspirin to reduce pain or fever in children with chickenpox because aspirin has been associated with the serious disease Reye syndrome, which can lead to liver failure and even death.
As much as possible, discourage kids from scratching. This can be difficult for them, so consider putting mittens or socks on your child's hands to prevent scratching during sleep. In addition, trim fingernails and keep them clean to help lessen the effects of scratching, including broken blisters and infection.
Most chickenpox infections require no special medical treatment. But sometimes, there are problems. Call the doctor if your child:
has fever that lasts for more than 4 days or rises above 102° Fahrenheit (38.8° Celsius)
has a severe cough or trouble breathing
has an area of rash that leaks pus (thick, discolored fluid) or becomes red, warm, swollen, or sore
has a severe headache
is unusually drowsy or has trouble waking up
has trouble looking at bright lights
has difficulty walking
seems very ill or is vomiting
has a stiff neck