My 3 year old daughter has just had Chickenpox for the second time!
Spring is one of those times of year, as the weather starts to get warmer when viruses and illnesses such as Chickenpox (the Varicella-zoster virus – VZV) start to come out. Although uncomfortable most people recover from Chickenpox within 1-2 weeks. Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease and is very common amongst young children, although adults can get it as well, often as shingles.
My daughter has just had Chickenpox for the second time, the first time she had it she was only 9 months old with illness and widespread spots. This latest dose developed exactly 21 days after coming into contact with a friend who developed spots 2 days after our get together. Thankfully, this time, she was just a little grumpy and a spattering of spots.
Her older sisters, pictured, both had it one after the other, which started just 1 day after I left my job nursing in the NHS to set up my Child Matters business. The first month of which I spent nursing the spotty girls.
How is Chickenpox transmitted?
Chickenpox is transmitted through the air. When the person with Chickenpox coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets are transferred into the air, these carry the varicella-zoster virus. If someone who has never been infected with Chickenpox inhales the droplets, it enters the lungs which in time is carried through the blood to the skin, causing a spotty rash associated with this disease.
What people don’t often realise is that before the spotty rash associated with this disease develops, the person can be generally unwell with an initial infection period. In many people, flu-like symptoms are precursors to the red spots. It takes between 10 and 21 days for the true signs of Chickenpox to develop. This is the incubation period. The first sign of the disease, when the virus becomes active might not be the rash.
Vaccination against Chickenpox is available but, in the UK, it is not carried out as routine or as part of the NHS immunisation programmes.
What are the confirmed signs of Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is recognised by the red spots which then explode across the body, the older you are the more you are affected. The person has been contagious days before the blisters appear. The blisters contain the virus and these blisters usually take about five to six days from the start of the spots to scab over. Until all the spots are scabbed over you continue to be contagious.
How can you treat Chickenpox?
Treatment of Chickenpox mostly consists of easing the symptoms.
1. Staying at home
Staying at home so you avoid contact with pregnant women, young babies and anyone with a weakened immune system is important until the blisters scab over.
Cut the patient’s nails short or encourage them to wear gloves to avoid scratching the blisters preventing the risk of infection.
If your child has a headache, aches, pain or has a fever you can give them paracetamol (eg Calpol). Follow the dosage instructions provided in the leaflet.
Please note: cold-sponging a child who has a fever is now not advised. This is because the blood vessels under the skin constrict when in contact with cold which reduces heat loss and can trap heat in core parts of the body. The child may then get hotter.
Please note. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended that ibuprofen is no longer used for treatment of fever and discomfort of Chickenpox. This type of medicine is an anti-inflammatory, there is an association with more severe skin reactions with Chickenpox making them go deeper into the skin tissue.
Keep the environment cool and wear loose light clothing because heat and sweat may make the itching worse.
A soothing cream like Calamine lotion applied to the spots or soak in a cool bath treated with oats (porridge oats in a bag made from tights or muslin!) can help to relieve the itching. Oats have properties that not only moisturise skin but can act as an emollient and improve dry skin. You will be glad to know that it soothes Chickenpox very well. Soak them in the bath allowing them to give off a creamy liquid.
In cases of Chickenpox where the itching is so serious that the scratching is difficult to control or the child’s sleep is disturbed, antihistamine medicines can be used. Chlorphenamine (Piriton) is the one most commonly used. The spots do not usually scar unless they are badly scratched.
Be careful about mixing medicines, speak to the GP or pharmacist if you are not sure which medicines to give your child.
Prevent a lack of fluid by giving lots to drink. With younger children use a syringe to encourage them to take small amounts of fluid whilst drinking may be uncomfortable if they have spots in the mouth/throat. Ice lollies can assist with comforting and rehydration.
If there are any concerns or complications such as persistent fever, redness increasing soreness or bleeding around the blisters, then medical advice should be sought.
Can adults get Chickenpox?
Yes, absolutely, although this tends to come out more as shingles rather than Chickenpox.
Can you get Chickenpox twice?
Yes, it is really rare and often when the child has caught Chickenpox the first time under the age of 1yr, because their immune system has not yet had a chance to fully form. It can be particularly dangerous for children who catch Chickenpox under 6-months as their risk of infection is higher, medical advice should be sought.
Despite some mis-conceptions it is not possible to catch Chickenpox from chickens.
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