Chickenpox is a common illness among children, particularly those under age 12. It is something parents are always looking out for. And although many of us had it as children, we may not be up-to-date on all the facts. MSD Ireland have put together a helpful guide of how to understand better what chickenpox is, how to spot the symptoms and how to treat it.
What is Chickenpox?
Chicken pox is a well-known childhood illness caused by a virus known as the varicella-zoster virus. Most people are familiar with chickenpox. Just a mention of it conjures images of spots that can cover your entire body and patches of lotion that might help to sooth the itch.
How Common is Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is most common in children under 10 years old and in fact, chickenpox is so common in childhood that 90% of adults are immune to the condition because they’ve had it before. Outbreaks of chickenpox are particularly common between March and May.
How does Chickenpox Spread?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious virus and can spread quickly through places like schools and childcare facilities. It’s infectious before you show any symptoms, so you could be infecting people without even knowing!
Chickenpox is spread in the same ways as colds and flu. It’s contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person sneezes or coughs. You can then become infected with the virus by breathing in these droplets from the air.
If a person comes in contact with the virus and hasn’t previously had the virus, their immune system hasn’t built up its defences and it is very likely that they will get the chickenpox.
The Cost of Chickenpox
For most children who get chickenpox, it’s a short-term but uncomfortable illness. Besides making your child miserable and itchy, chickenpox can impact parents and care-givers who may have to take time off work or cover the cost of extra child-care while their child is off sick from school.
Complications from Chickenpox
Usually, chickenpox runs its course and complications are rare. However, they can include superinfection, skin-scarring, encephalitis, pneumonia, glomerulonephritis, myocarditis, Reye’s syndrome, hepatitis and coagulopathy.
Although the most frequent complication is infection when those itchy spots become infected with bacteria.
People who are most at risk of developing complications are adults who get chickenpox, pregnant women, babies under four weeks old and people who have a weakened immune system.
If you’re pregnant, chickenpox can occasionally cause complications. For example, your risk of developing pneumonia is slightly higher, especially if you smoke. The further you are into your pregnancy, the more serious the risk of pneumonia tends to be.
If you contract chickenpox and you have a weakened immune system, complications can include: pneumonia, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and meningitis.
Chickenpox and Shingles
The chickenpox virus never leaves the body. It lies dormant and years later, can reactivate in adulthood and result in a painful rash called Shingles.
How Can You Treat It and Beat It?
There is no cure for chickenpox. The virus usually clears up by itself without any treatment. However, there are ways of easing the itch and discomfort.
There are important steps you can take to stop chickenpox spreading.
- Don’t scratch! If you don’t scratch, the spots will heal faster and it will help to protect against infection.
- Calamine lotion on the spots may ease itching.
- Keep nails short: Having nails trimmed will keep them clean and help to avoid infecting the lesions by scratching. If that doesn’t work, try cotton gloves or mitts!
- Keep fresh: Make sure the air is clean and cool, as heat and sweat exacerbate the itching.
- Shower: Daily bathing will help keep the skin fresh and clean.
- Talk to your healthcare professional about the best way to treat the associated symptoms of chickenpox.
- Stay at home: In order to avoid infections, it’s best if you remain at home until all lesions dry up and become scabs. You also don’t want to infect other
Over to you now. Have you or your family been affected by Chickenpox? Please let us know in the comments box below.