Chicken pox is a highly-contagious viral infection that causes itchy rashes that look like blisters. It usually lasts between five to 10 days.
Chicken pox symptoms
The initial chicken pox symptoms, which last for a few days, are:
- Fever of 38.3 to 38.8 C
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Malaise (the feeling of being unwell)
Then rashes, one of the tell-tale chicken pox symptoms and usually characterised as itchy and red, develop in the following areas 0f the body: face, back or abdomen. It then spreads to other parts of the body, even in the mouth, genitals, scalp, mouth and limbs.
One of the chicken pox symptoms is itchy rashes. Stop your child from scratching as that leads to scarring.
There are three stages of the chicken pox rashes:
- Rashes appear to be pimples or insect bites; they are raised bumps (papules) that are either pink or red
- Over the next two to four days, they appear in groups and develop to look like blisters (vesicles) with flimsy walls that have fluid
- When the walls break, the open rashes develops a crust. It then becomes dry and turns into scabs
Out of all the chicken pox symptoms, rashes bring great discomfort since they are itchy. Also, the three stages (bumps, blisters and scabs) can occur in the body simultaneously.
Causes of chicken pox
Chicken pox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is highly contagious.
Transmission of chicken pox
Chicken pox is highly contagious. It is spread through air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. It is also spread by direct contact through saliva, mucus and the fluid inside the blisters.
The period in which an infected child is contagious is dependent on when chicken pox symptoms appear: two days before the rashes manifest until when the blisters develop crusts.
When can a child return to school?
To ensure the health and safety of all the other students, keep an infected child at home. It is safe for him to return to school when all the blisters have dried.
- Those who haven’t contracted the virus before
- Those who haven’t received vaccine to protect against chicken pox
- Those with compromised immune systems including pregnant women
- Those undergoing medication that weaken the immune system such as chemotherapy
- Those taking steroids for certain conditions or diseases
- Eczema. A child with skin disorders such as this or weak immune systems may experience severe rashes.
- Though rare, a child can develop bacterial infections in the bones, skin, joints and even the brain.
- Pregnant women in particular who develop chicken pox are at risk for her unborn child suffering from: birth defects and health complications. If a woman develops chicken pox after birth, the newborn is at risk for health complications such as life-threatening infections as well.
- Shingles. A child who contracted chicken pox may develop shingles, which is a skin condition that usually affects older people. The chicken pox virus can remain dormant in the nervous system for the rest of a child’s life even after he survives the virus. Later in life, there is a risk of the virus reactivating as shingles.
- Encephalitis which is the swelling of the brain due to a viral or bacterial infection
- Toxic shock syndrome
- Reye’s syndrome
When to Call the Doctor
When the child has the following chicken pox symptoms:
- Has fever that persists for more than four days and is above 38.8 C
- Has difficulty breathing
- Experiences severe cough
- Has an area of rashes that is red, swollen, sore or warm
- Has rashes that discharge pus
- Experiences difficulty walking
- Experiences severe headache
- Appears confused
- Becomes sensitive to bright light
- Becomes drowsy or hard to wake up
- Complains of a stiff neck
If you schedule a visit to your doctor, inform him in advance that your child has chicken pox symptoms to avoid infecting others.
Tests and Diagnosis
Doctors can determine the infection from one of the chief chicken pox symptoms: the rash. If more confirmation is required, then laboratory tests can be requested.
Treatments and Drugs
Antibiotics won’t kill this particular virus. The only time it will be prescribed is when the sores develop a bacterial infection. Bacteria usually occurs when children frequently scratch and pick at the blisters.
Antiviral medications are prescribed for those who are at risk of developing health complications.
Personal hygiene is important. Chicken pox symptoms can be transmitted easily from person to person, so do ensure you wash your hands after touching your child who has chicken pox.
Home Remedies for chickenpox
This contagious disease is uncomfortable due to the fever and rashes. Here are things you can do to help ease the child from discomfort caused by chicken pox symptoms:
- Give sponge baths using lukewarm water. Give the bath in intervals of three to four hours during the first few days of infection. This helps relieve itching. Other bath’s to try are the ones with uncooked oatmeal or water with baking soda which relieve itchiness, too.
- Pat the body dry–do not rub–using a clean towel.
- Apply calamine cream to help relieve itchiness. Avoid applying on the face and near the eyes.
- Offer cold food such as yogurt, ice cream, fresh fruit shakes; offer soft food such as bananas, porridge, and a soup based meal such as noodles, mee sua, kway teow. These food help when mouth sores, which make eating and chewing difficult, develop.
- A bland diet is better especially if the child has mouth sores.
- Avoid giving the child food that are salty and acidic.
- Give acetaminophen to help relieve any pain from mouth sores. Do not give aspirin since it can cause Reye’s syndrome.
Ask the doctor about creams that he can recommend for rashes at the genital area.
Bursting those chicken pox blisters or scratching them can lead to scarring, so do take steps to prevent that.
Encourage the child to avoid scratching because doing so can cause bacterial infection. At night, use mittens or socks on a child’s hand to stop him from scratching the rashes while he is asleep.
It is also advisable to groom his fingernails (cutting and keeping them clean) to avoid bacterial infections in case the blisters are accidentally scratched.
Prevention of chicken pox
Getting vaccinated reduces the chances of a child catching chicken pox. It will also lead to experiencing milder chicken pox symptoms and having a faster recovery period compared to someone who isn’t immunised.
In Singapore, it is not compulsory to vaccinate children against chickenpox, but it is recommended for children between 12 to 18 months to obtain the vaccination for life-long immunity:
- For children below 13 years of age, MOH’s Expert Committee on Immunisation recommends they should receive two doses with an interval of at least 3 months. The first dose should be given at 12 months of age and the second dose at least 3 months later, by 18 months of age.
- Those who are 13 years and above continue to receive 2 doses, at 6 weeks interval.
To prevent spreading the disease to others at home:
- Practice proper hygiene. Ask everyone to always wash their hands properly (follow the 20 second rule) before eating and after coming from the bathroom.
- Isolate the child who is infected with chicken pox.
- Encourage the care takers to use masks inside the room and wash their hands after leaving the room.
While chicken pox is a common childhood disease, care and precaution can be taken with the chicken pox vaccinations available at our polyclinics in Singapore and clinics islandwide. Check with your doctor about this.