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Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a highly contagious childhood infection caused by the varicella zoster virus. It is a viral infection that causes  a very itchy, blistery rash and usually a fever. Chickenpox is highly contagious to people who have never had the disease nor been vaccinated against it.

It is one of the common childhood illnesses that most children catch at some point.

Causes

The varicella zoster virus is spread in the same way as the common cold or flu. You can then become infected with the virus by breathing in infected droplets from the air, when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

You can also become infected by touching a surface or object that infected droplets have landed on, then transferring the virus to yourself by touching your face.

It takes about 7 to 21 days for the symptoms of chickenpox to show after initial contact with the virus. This is known as the ‘incubation period’.

A person with chickenpox is most infectious from one to two days before a rash appears until all the blisters have crusted over. This should usually take five to six days from the start of the rash.

Symptoms

The most commonly recognised chickenpox symptom is a characteristic red rash that can cover the whole body.

But before the rash appears e.g. one to two days before, you may notice the following mild flu-like symptoms;

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell
  • A high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or over
  • Aching, painful muscles
  • Loss of appetite

Once the chickenpox rash appears, it goes through three phases:

  • Small, itchy red spots, which break out over several days
  • These become fluid-filled blisters, then the fluid in the blisters gets cloudy and they begin to dry out and crust over
  • Crusts and scabs, which cover the broken blisters will then take several days to heal

The spots can be anywhere on the body e.g. inside the ears and mouth, on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet or on the buttocks. After one to two weeks, the crusting skin should fall off naturally.

Treatment

In reality, there is no cure for chickenpox virus and it usually clears up by itself without any treatment. Most treatments simply help ease the itch and discomfort. You should take steps to prevent the chickenpox spreading.

  • Painkillers can help if you or your child have a high temperature or fever
  • It is also important to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Prevent scarring by not scratching. One way to stop scratching is to keep the fingernails clean and short. By putting socks over your child’s hands at night, you can stop them from scratching the rash as they sleep
  • Loose fitting clothing and cotton fabrics should help stop the skin from becoming sore and irritated
  • The popular calamine lotion is known to help relieve the itchiness that comes with chickenpox

Prevention

  • If your child has chickenpox keep your child at home until the chickenpox clears and do not take him/her to school
  • If you have chickenpox, don’t go to work. Stay at home until you’re no longer infectious i.e. until the last blister has burst and crusted over. This usually takes five or six days after the rash begins
  • If either you or your child has chickenpox, avoid contact with pregnant women, newborn babies and anyone who has a weak immune system

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