Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It usually occurs in children. You may notice an itchy red rash that occurs all over the body and the face. These bumps are usually spread over the body through scratching of the rash and then touching unaffected areas.
If you look closely, the red bumps resemble pimples. They are filled with clear fluid that turns cloudy. When they eventually pop, they crust and produce scabs as they dry out.
Symptoms of Chickenpox
Those with chickenpox notice the rash and itching more than anything else. But, there are other symptoms that children may feel such as fever, sore throat, headache or abdominal pain before the rash shows up. In rare cases, chickenpox can lead to serious bacterial or viral infections that affect the brain, joints and bones.
Chickenpox is highly contagious. Parents usually expose other children if one child has it so that they will all suffer together and then it’s over. If your child has it, don’t let them go to school as they can pass the virus to others until the bumps pop and scab over. This can take about a week.
Stopping the Itch
Chickenpox can be both itchy and painful. Scratching seems to bring some relief but then the pain starts from all that rubbing and scratching. Kids and parents are miserable as they endure the five or seven days it takes for the condition to run its course. Here are some ideas to stem that itch and keep your child cool and comfortable.
* Use calamine lotion – This works for other itchy rashes like poison ivy by drying out the skin. Rubbing your child down with it can provide temporary relief from pain and itch.
* Take antihistamines – The itching is a result of the body’s reaction to the disease. It releases histamine which leads to the itching. Over-the-counter medications can block the release of histamine so you feel less itchy over time.
* Oatmeal baths – This is an old but a good remedy for chickenpox itch. Fill a tub with cool, but not cold water. Hot water can increase the pain and itch. Fill the tub with baking soda and oatmeal. If you have it, use pre-packaged colloidal oatmeal remedies. Allow your child to soak for about 15 minutes until they feel better.
* Use socks on the hands – It will be hard to keep kids from scratching when they itch. Placing mittens or socks on the hands prevents damage from being done to the skin that will hurt later on.
Chicken Pox Vaccine
About ten or so years ago, doctors introduced a new vaccine for chickenpox – the varicella vaccine. Parents have had conflicting views of this development and are puzzled by what to do about it. Should they give it to their kids or allow nature to take its course?
Both Sides of the Argument
For hundreds or thousands of years, children have lived through chickenpox. When the body encounters childhood diseases like chickenpox or mumps and measles, it builds up immunity. Antibodies are produced as a result of the body fighting the invading antigen. A high level of these antibodies in the body (titer) can ward off future incidents of the condition from occurring.
In the past, if one child was exposed to the virus, parents would expose all of their children. This was done for two reasons. One, it almost guaranteed that the healthy child would contract the disease in childhood. Secondly, if all of the children had it at the same time then only one week of work was lost.
Nowadays, there are vaccines available that had not been invented all those years ago. Children can avoid the pain of many conditions with a vaccination. Parents are opting for this method to keep their children healthier than previous generations.
Here’s the rub, though. Because the vaccine is new, there is a lack of data as to its efficacy. No one is sure how long the immunity will last.
The problem here is shingles. It is an adult form of chickenpox that is quite painful. It can also cause serious problems in those who have never had chickenpox before or in people who have had it but not maintained a high enough titer over the years.
Children not exposed to chickenpox as children have a greater incidence of contracting shingles as adults. For non-immune adults, the varicella vaccine can help lower their risk of catching chickenpox, especially in geriatric people where it can be life threatening.
So, is the vaccine necessary? Many healthcare facilities require it for employees. Parents have a choice when it comes to their children. For them the question is which is better: natural immunity through exposure or vaccination? The jury is still out on this one.