All you need to know about Chickenpox
We've all heard about and perhaps experienced that childhood disease chickenpox. With this in mind, we bring you information on what you need to know about this common disease.
Did you know? 8 facts about chickenpox
- Chickenpox commonly causes an illness that lasts about 5-10 days1.
- A person with chickenpox can have 250 to 500 blisters1.
- An infected person can be contagious as early as 1 to 2 days before the rash appears2.
- Possible complications include skin infection, pneumonia and brain damage2.
- 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) infection3.
- Chickenpox scars can be found most often on the abdomen, face and back4.
- Anti-viral prescription medications for chickenpox are usually most effective when taken within the first 24 hours of illness2.
- Chickenpox can be prevented through vaccination2.
What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by a herpes virus called Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV)1. Anyone can get chickenpox2. However, it is more common in children2. Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems1.
Chickenpox can also give rise to more severe problems in pregnant women2. If a pregnant woman gets chickenpox it may result in stillbirths or birth defects, and the disease can spread to their babies during childbirth2.
Symptoms of chickenpox
Typical symptoms that may appear 1 to 2 days before the rash include high fever, tiredness, headache and loss of appetite¹.
The classic chickenpox symptom is a rash that turns into itchy blisters¹. This rash / spots may leave scars when scratched².
The rash may start on the face, chest, and back¹. It can then spread to the rest of the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids or genital area¹. It usually takes about 1 week for all the blisters to become scabs¹.
How contagious is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is highly contagious2. It can spread in the air through coughing and sneezing, or even by touching chickenpox blisters1. 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 dried2.
Chickenpox commonly causes an illness that lasts about 5-10 days1. Your child may miss 5 to 6 days of school or childcare due to chickenpox1.
In Singapore, nearly 2/3 of pre-school children, 39.5% of primary school children and 29% of adolescents (13-17 years old) are susceptible to varicella (chickenpox) infection3.
Chickenpox is harmless to most people2. However, those with impaired immune systems may experience serious complications, or even death2.
Possible complications of chickenpox include2:
- Skin infection
- Brain damage
Chickenpox spots are itchy and may leave scars when scratched2. Up to 18.7% children may get chickenpox scars4. These scars can be found most often on the abdomen, face and back4.
Chickenpox burden from a parent’s perspective
When a child falls sick due to varicella (chickenpox), the following may impact the parent5:
- Doctor consultations
- Hospitalisation in complicated cases
- Use of prescription and/or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
- 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
Anyone can get 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 anti-virals prescribed by the doctor to reduce the severity and duration of chickenpox. Anti-virals 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 the 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 if²:
- 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.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – About Chickenpox; Available from www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/about/index.html; Last viewed on 16 Jan 2014.
- Health Promotion Board – Chickenpox; Available from www.hpb.gov.sg/diseases/article.aspx?id=6432; Last viewed on 16 Jan 2014.
- 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.
- Leung A et al; Scarring resulting from chickenpox; Pediatric Dermatology; 2001; 18(5): 378-380.
- 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.
SG/VAC/0002/14n certified 11/09/14