Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It is commonly seen in preschool and school-aged children during the months of March through May. Here we provide answers to the frequently asked questions about the viral infection.
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?
The most common symptoms of chickenpox are rash, fever, irritability, headache, and loss of appetite. The rash usually develops on face, chest, and back and then spreads to the rest of the body. The rash usually forms 200 to 500 itchy blisters in several successive crops. The illness lasts about 5 to 10 days.
How serious is chickenpox?
It’s usually not serious, but the itching can be very uncomfortable. In some cases, chickenpox can cause serious problems such as:
- Skin infections
- Pneumonia (Infection in the lungs)
- Brain swelling
Those more likely to suffer a more severe infection and complications include infants, adults, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system (due to cancer, HIV, or medications such as high doses of steroids).
How does chickenpox spread?
Chickenpox spreads through the air when a person who has chickenpox coughs or sneezes. It can also spread by touching or breathing virus particles from an infected person’s blisters. In addition, maternal varicella is transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby. It takes 10-21 days for the symptoms to show after coming into contact with the virus. Keep the infected person away from other family members who have not had chickenpox.
How long is my child infectious?
Your child can infect other children 1 to 2 days before the appearance of the rash, and until all the blisters have formed scabs or crusts.
Can you get chickenpox more than once?
Most people are immune to chickenpox after having the disease. However, although it is not common, second cases of chickenpox can occur, particularly in people with weakened immune system.
Is there a vaccine for chickenpox?
Yes. Children who have never had chickenpox should get 2 doses of the chickenpox vaccine. These usually are taken at 12 to 15 months of age and at 4 to 6 years of age. People 13 years of age and older (who have never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine) should get two doses at least 28 days apart.
How effective is this vaccine?
More than 99% of children develop immunity to the disease after 2 doses of the vaccine. Although some vaccinated children (about 2%) will still get chickenpox, they generally will have a much milder form of the disease.
Can the vaccine protect you if you’ve already been exposed to chickenpox?
Yes, it is 70% to 100% effective if given within 72 hours of exposure.
Why not let my child get chickenpox naturally and build natural immunity?
Chickenpox can be a mild disease, but at times it can also be very serious. There is no way of predicting disease severity. By ensuring that your child receives the vaccine, you minimize the risk that they will suffer from complications of the disease.
How is chickenpox managed?
Chickenpox usually clears up by itself without any specific treatment. However, there are ways of easing the itch and discomfort:
- If your child is in pain or has fever, you can use Paracetamol or Ibuprofen. Never use aspirin to reduce pain or fever in kids with chickenpox, as it has been associated with a rare but serious disease called Reye Syndrome.
- Put calamine lotion on itchy areas (but do not use it on the face, especially near the eyes).
- Use cool wet compresses or bathe the child regularly with cool or lukewarm water to reduce itching and prevent infection of the blisters. Also, to prevent infection and scaring, the child’s fingernails should be kept short, mittens or socks may be worn on the hands at night.
- Serve foods that are cold, soft, and bland because chickenpox in the mouth can make drinking or eating difficult. Avoid feeding your child anything salty or acidic.
Children with chickenpox should not return to school or daycare until all lesions are crusted over.