What every parent needs to know about chickenpox

Find out some useful facts and information about chickenpox...

We've all heard about and perhaps experienced the childhood disease chickenpox.

Even though you may have got this illness as a child, it's when you have your own kids that you start worrying about an illness such as chickenpox and what effects it may have on your child.

With this in mind, we bring you information on what you need to know about this common disease.

chickenpox

 Did you know? 8 facts about chickenpox

  1. Chickenpox commonly causes an illness that lasts about 5-10 days.1
  2. A person with chickenpox can have 250 to 500 blisters.1
  3. An infected person can be contagious as early as from 1 to 2 days before the rash appears.2
  4. Possible complications include skin infection, pneumonia and brain damage.2
  5. In Singapore, nearly 2/3 of pre-school children, 39.5% of primary school and 29% of adolescents (13-17 years old) are susceptible to varicella (chickenpox) infection.3
  6. Chickenpox scars can be found most often on the abdomen, face and back.4
  7. Anti-viral prescription medications for chickenpox are usually most effective when taken within the first 24 hours of illness.2
  8. Chickenpox can be prevented through vaccination.2

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a disease caused by a herpes virus called Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV).1 Anyone can get chickenpox. However, it is more common in children.2

Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems.1

Chickenpox can also give rise to more severe problems in pregnant women.2 If a pregnant woman gets chickenpox it may result in stillbirths or birth defects, and the disease can spread to their babies during childbirth.2

Symptoms of chickenpox

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Typical symptoms that may appear 1 to 2 days before the rash include high fever, tiredness, headache and loss of appetite.1

The classic chickenpox symptom is a rash that turns into itchy blisters.1 This rash/spots may leave scars when scratched.2

The rash may start on the face, chest, and back.It can then spread to the rest of the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids or genital area.1 It usually takes about 1 week for all the blisters to become scabs.1

 How contagious is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is highly contagious.2 It can spread in the air through coughing and sneezing, or even by touching chickenpox blisters.1

An infected person can spread the disease from 1 to 2 days before the rash appears until about 1 week later when all the spots are dried.2

Chickenpox commonly causes an illness that lasts about 5-10 days.1 Your child may miss 5 to 6 days of school or childcare due to chickenpox.1

In Singapore, nearly 2/3 of pre-school children, 39.5% of primary school and 29% of adolescents (13-17 years old) are susceptible to varicella (chickenpox) infection.3

Complications of chickenpox

Chickenpox is harmless to most people.2 However, those with impaired immune systems may experience serious complications, or even death.2

Possible complications of chickenpox include:2

  • Skin infections
  • Dehydration
  • Brain damage
  • Pneumonia
  • Arthritis

Chickenpox spots are itchy and may leave scars when scratched.2 Up to 18.7% children may get chickenpox scars.4 These scars can be found most often on the abdomen, face and back.4

Chickenpox burden from a parent’s perspective

chickenpox

When a child falls sick due to chickenpox, the following may impact the parent:5

Medical burden

  • Doctor consultations
  • Hospitalisation in complicated cases
  • Use of prescription and/or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs

Societal impact

  • Absence from a paid job
  • Absence from an unpaid job, e.g. not being able to carry out activities around the house
  • Productivity loss at work: e.g. due to lack of sleep because of caring for the child
  • Leisure time loss: e.g. due to a doctor visit

Prevention of chickenpox2

chickenpox

Chickenpox can be prevented through vaccination.

Treatment and self-care of chickenpox2

Treatment is directed at reducing the itch and discomfort of the rash. There are also antivirals prescribed by the doctor to reduce the severity and duration of chickenpox.

Antivirals are usually most effective when taken within the first 24 hours of illness. However, most children do not need them.

Here are some tips for chickenpox self-care:

  • Avoid scratching as it can cause scarring. Scratching also can affect the healing process and increase the risk of bacterial infection. To minimize damage due to scratching, put gloves on your child at night and trim his fingernails.
  • Take cool baths to help relieve itching especially for children. Also, dabbing the spots with calamine lotion may help relieve the itching.

Seek immediate medical attention if:2

  • The rash spreads to one or both eyes.
  • The rash gets very red, warm or tender, indicating a possible secondary bacterial skin infection.
  • The rash is accompanied by dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, tremors, loss of muscle coordination, worsening cough, vomiting, stiff neck or high fever.

 References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – About Chickenpox; Available from www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/about/index.html; Last viewed on 14 Jan 2014.
  2. Health Promotion Board – Chickenpox; Available from www.hpb.gov.sg/diseases/article.aspx?id=6432; Last viewed on 14 Jan 2014.
  3. Fatha N et al; Changing seroprevalence of varicella zoster virus infection in a tropical state, Singapore; International Journal of Infectious Diseases; 2014; 22: 73–77.
  4. Leung AKC et al; – Scarring resulting from chickenpox; Pediatric Dermatology;2001; 18(5): 378-380.
  5. Wolleswinkel-van den Bosch JH et al;The burden of varicella from a parent’s perspective and its societal impact in The Netherlands: an Internet survey; BMC Infectious Diseases; 2011; 11: 320.

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