WHAT IS IT?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a type of herpes virus. It is often a mild illness, characterized by an itchy rash on the face, scalp, and trunk with pink spots and tiny fluid-filled blisters that dry and become scabs four to five days later. Serious complications, although rare, can occur mainly in infants, adolescents, adults and persons with a weakened immune system.
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS
People with chickenpox have small blisters (like a rash) on their skin.
These can be very itchy.
Other symptoms of chickenpox are:
- general aches and pains.
HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?
If there are no complications:
- adults generally have the chickenpox infection for 3–7 days
- children are usually ill for about 5–10 days.
Teenagers and adults are more likely to have complications or feel sicker from chickenpox than children.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD?
The virus is spread through the air by infected people when they sneeze or a cough, and by touching the chickenpox blisters then touching objects or other people.
The illness starts 10–21 days after being exposed.
CAN YOU CATCH THEM AGAIN?
In most cases, getting chickenpox once means you will not get it again. This is called lifelong immunity. However, in rare cases, a person gets it again.
HOW DO I TREAT IT?
If your child gets chickenpox, DO NOT GIVE HIM/HER ASPIRIN (acetylsalicylic acid) or any products that contain aspirin. Taking aspirin increases the risk of getting Reye’s syndrome. This severe illness can damage the liver and brain. If you want to control your child’s fever, use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol, Tempra and Panadol).
Children often find it hard not to scratch the blisters, and this can cause some of them to get infected. If this happens, you should take them to the doctor as antibiotics might be needed.
In very rare cases chickenpox can lead to pneumonia or problems with the kidneys, heart or joints. The nervous system may be affected, which may cause irritation and swelling in the brain (such as meningitis).
If you or a family member has any of the following symptoms of chickenpox, see your doctor or call an ambulance immediately:
- High fever
- Severe headache
- Sensitivity to light (light hurts your eyes)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stiff neck
- Sleepiness, difficulty waking or unconsciousness
- Convulsions (fits, seizures).
Home Care Advice for Chickenpox
Cool Baths: For itching, give cool baths for 10 minutes as often as needed. (Caution: avoid any chill) Can add baking soda 2 oz. Per tub. Baths don’t spread the chickenpox.
Calamine Lotion: Apply calamine lotion to the chickenpox that itches the most or massage them with an ice cube for 10 minutes. (Don’t use Caladryl because the Benadryl in it can be absorbed across the inflamed skin and cause side effects.)
Benadryl Medicine: If itching becomes severe or interferes with sleep, give oral Benadryl (See Dosage table)
Discourage Scratching: Trim fingernails and wash hands frequently with an antibacterial soap to prevent impetigo. Discourage picking and scratching.
Fever Medicine: Give acetaminophen for fever > 102°F (39°C). Never use aspirin. (Reason: risk of Reyes syndrome.) Also don’t use ibuprofen (Reason: may increase risk of deep strep infections)
Soft Diet: Offer a soft diet for painful mouth and throat ulcers. For infants, give fluids by cup rather than bottle because the nipple can cause increased pain.
Antacid for Mouth Pain: For severe mouth ulcers in children over age 4, use 1 teaspoon of a liquid antacid as a mouth wash 4 times per day after meals. For younger children, put a few drops in the front of the mouth after meals.
Contagiousness: Your child can return to day care or school after all the sores have crusted over, usually day 6 or 7 of the rash.
Expected Course: Expect new chickenpox every day for 4 or 5 days. Most children get 400 to 500 chickenpox.
Call Your Doctor If:
- Chickenpox look infected (draining pus, scabs become larger)
- Gets any new chickenpox after day 6
- Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor” symptoms
MAKE THE SPREADING STOP
The chickenpox virus is spread through the air by infected people when they sneeze or a cough.
- Always turn away from others and use tissues when you cough or sneeze.
- Always wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
Chickenpox can also spread through touching the blisters and then touching objects or other people.
- Wash your hands often, especially if you’re the caregiver of a child with chickenpox – and make sure they do the same.
- Discourage children from scratching the blisters.