What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a transmissible disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes an itchy, blister-like rash. Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
Children usually catch chickenpox from other children. The disease spreads in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. One person with chickenpox can infect dozens of others who have not had the disease themselves or have not been vaccinated against it.
What are chickenpox symptoms?
Chickenpox symptoms usually appear 10-21 days after exposure to the virus, and they include:
- A fever of 101° F or higher
- Dry cough
- Loss of energy or lethargy
- Loss of appetite
Chickenpox pictures at early stages show an itchy, blister-like rash. This rash is usually red and begins on the face, scalp, or chest. The rash spreads to almost everywhere else on the body within 24 hours. Over the next 4-5 days, new bumps turn into blisters that break open and then scab over.
The spots may be itchy and are usually present all over the body, including in the mouth, eyelids, and genital area. They’re most likely to affect the chest, back, face and limbs.
How chickenpox is spread
Chickenpox is spread very easily. It can be caught by:
- Breathing in tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes
- Touching clothing, bedding, or towels that have been used by someone with chickenpox
- Touching the fluid from chickenpox blisters
Chickenpox is most contagious for a few days before the spots appear until about 5 days after they appear. The infection can be passed on to others from 1 to 2 days before the spots appear until all the blisters have crusted over.
The fluid in the blisters is infectious, so make sure your child doesn’t scratch their spots to avoid them getting infected. Trim their nails and keep them clean.
How to reduce your child’s risk of getting chickenpox
Chickenpox can be serious, particularly in infants and adults, so it’s important to know how to reduce your child’s risk of getting it.
Vaccinating against chickenpox is the most effective way to prevent it. The vaccine comes in two forms: a single dose for children aged 12 months to 12 years and if you haven’t had chickenpox or gotten vaccinated against it, you must get two doses if you are thirteen or older. Both are effective at preventing chickenpox between 70 and 90 percent of the time.
Before the vaccine became available in 1995, chickenpox affected more than 4 million people each year in the United States, leading to more than 10,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths. Since then, cases of chickenpox have dropped by 90 percent with the use of vaccines.
What to do if your child has chickenpox
There are a few things you can do to help your child recover and reduce the risk of complications:
- Keep nails short. Chickenpox is itchy so encourage your child to avoid scratching and encourage them to keep their nails short. This will help prevent scarring and infection of the spots.
- Provide a cool bath or sponge down. Soak your child in a lukewarm bath or sponge them down with tepid water to help soothe the itching and lower their temperature. Add a tablespoon (15ml) of baking soda or oatmeal to the water if you need extra soothing power.
- Dress your child in light clothing to prevent overheating and further itching.
- Use calamine lotion or anti-itch creams that contain 1% hydrocortisone at bedtime only, as directed on the label, and don’t apply these products more than once per day.
- Keep away from work, school, or nursery until all your spots have crusted over. This usually takes five days from when the rash first appeared. Check with your GP if you have any questions.
What you can do to prevent its spread
There are a few things you can do to help prevent chickenpox from spreading to others, including:
- Washing your hands regularly, particularly after touching blisters
- Regularly cleaning surfaces in your home that may have become contaminated with the virus, such as bed linen, towels, and clothes
- Avoid contact with people who have not had chickenpox or have not been vaccinated against it, if possible.
- Vaccinating your child against chickenpox will help prevent them from spreading the infection to people who haven’t had it, such as newborn babies and pregnant women.
Complications of chickenpox are rare, but they can occur. Complications are more common in adults than in children. Some of the noteworthy complications are:
- Skin and soft tissues’ bacterial infections in kids
- Pneumonia (lung infection) in children and adults
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord) in adults
- Sepsis (widespread infection throughout the body) can lead to organ failure and death, especially in people with a weakened immune system or severe varicella infection.
- Toxic shock syndrome (a serious complication of infection that causes a sudden high temperature, fast heartbeat, and confusion)
Vaccination has greatly reduced the number of cases of chickenpox in the United States. The varicella vaccine is recommended for all children at age 12 through 15 months old. A second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended for 4 through 6 years old, adolescents who did not receive two doses as children, and adults who have never had chickenpox or received the varicella vaccine previously.
Chickenpox is very contagious, but not dangerous and you can take steps to reduce the chances that your child will catch it or spread it. Skin infection is usually treated with antibiotics. If there’s evidence of widespread infection or septicemia, your child may need to stay in hospital.