Chickenpox, a highly contagious air-borne disease, which can easily spread through sneezing and coughing is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV). Children below 12 years of age are the most susceptible to this once common illness that causes itchy rashes and red spots all over the body. Generally a person has only one episode of chickenpox. Getting the chickenpox vaccine significantly lowers the chances of children acquiring chickenpox, but they might still develop shingles (another painful, blistering skin rash) later in life. However, introduction of the chickenpox vaccine has lessened the occurrence of the disease.
The word ‘chicken’ in chickenpox has absolutely nothing to do with chickens. The name has been derived from the word cicer, a Latin word for chickpeas. The blisters that appear all over the body resemble chickpeas on the skin, and hence the name.
A chickenpox vaccine or varicella vaccine is given to children between 12 and 15 months of age to rule out the chances of occurrence of the disease. A booster shot is recommended by the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, which is to be given to the child between 4 to 6 years of age to further reduce the chances. People who are 13 years or older than that and have never suffered from this disease must get themselves vaccinated at regular intervals.
Some children who have had the vaccine may still develop a mild case of chickenpox. They usually recover much more quickly and have only a few pox (less than 30). However, these children can still spread the disease.
Symptoms of Chickenpox:
The most common symptoms that can be seen in children even before the rash appears are:
- Stomach ache
The chickenpox rash generally starts appearing within 2 to 3 weeks of contact with an infected person. On an average a child develops 250 to 500 small, itchy, fluid-filled blisters over the red spots on the skin. The blisters first appear on the face and gradually spread to the limbs, scalp, chest and back. After a day or two, the blisters become cloudy and then scab. Meanwhile, new blisters form in groups in the mouth, vagina, and on the eyelids.
The disease lasts from 7 to 10 days in children, but in adults chickenpox may take longer to recover.
Who all can fall prey to complications of Chickenpox?
- Pregnant women who have never suffered from chickenpox.
- People with a weak immune system.
- People suffering from lung or heart disease, or other skin problems.
- A person who has never suffered from chickenpox has more chances of acquiring the disease after coming in contact with an infected person.
Treatments for chickenpox that would help to curb the spread of infection and recover from the disease within 7 to 10 days are given below:
- In case of chickenpox with viral-type symptoms like headache, fatigue or muscle ache, the patient should be treated with pain reliever like acetaminophen. Avoid giving medications with aspirin to kids.
- Acyclovir and other anti-viral drugs are often prescribed by the doctors to treat chickenpox.
- Though the rashes or spots in chickenpox are itchy, it is important to avoid scratching, as it can give rise to secondary bacterial infection further leading to delay in recovery. Also, there is a risk of getting permanent scars due to scratching. Children should wear gloves or mittens to reduce scratching.
- Use of calamine lotion on the spots or mud pack on chest and abdomen provides relief from itching.
- One can also add neem leaves or oatmeal to lukewarm water while taking a bath as this can help in reducing the itching.
- Having fruit juices, vegetable juices and herbal tea speed up the recovery.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease. The period between four days prior to the day when the rash appears and four days after it appears is considered to be the most crucial. It is during this period that there are maximum chances of the infected person spreading the disease to whoever comes in contact. The possibility of acquiring the infection rises due to exposure to respiratory droplets released by the patient when he/she sneezes or coughs, physical contact with the patient, physical contact with the fluid secreting from the blisters. Thus, one must avoid any direct contact with the patient; if possible, the patient should be kept in an isolated room. Also, avoid sharing their belongings. Usage of disinfectants for cleaning floors and clothes can reduce the risk of infections to a great extent.