Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Chickenpox

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Chickenpox is a common illness among children, particularly those under age 12.  So it’s something parents are always looking out for. It is also called varicella, and is a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus. Although many of us had it as children, we may not be up to date on all the facts.

Here’s a 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.

Is Chickenpox common?
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. It’s particularly common between March and May.

How does Chickenpox spread?
It’s 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 had the virus before and their immune system hasn´t built up its defences, it is very likely that he or she will get the chickenpox.

All it takes to be exposed to chickenpox is to be in the same room as an infected person for 15 minutes or have face-to-face contact with an infected person.

Siblings and children in childcare facilities or schools are particularly susceptible. The attack rate of chickenpox among susceptible siblings in households is 87%.

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, skins scarring, encephalitis, pneumonia, glomerulonephritis, myocarditis, Reye’s syndrome, hepatisis 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 if you’re pregnant, 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 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 treating 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 others.

This article is brought to you by MSD Ireland