Release Date: 1/26/2012
Chickenpox - Its name is funny, its symptoms aren't
Dr. Dana Galbraith, a family medicine specialist, practices at St. Anthony's Family Health Partners.
Although kids often giggle at its funny name, chickenpox is no laughing matter for a child who feels itchy, achy and uncomfortable.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and used to be one of the classic childhood diseases. Since the development of the chickenpox vaccine, usually given at age 12-to-15 months, it has become much less common. Some children who have had the vaccine still will develop a mild case of chickenpox, but they generally have only a few pox and recover much more quickly.
The first symptoms of chickenpox may include headache, stomach ache and fever, followed in a day or two by a rash of small, itchy, fluid-filled blisters over red spots on the skin. The blisters usually are first seen on the face, scalp or trunk, eventually spreading to almost every part of the body. They usually are less than a quarter of an inch wide, and begin breaking and scabbing over within a couple of days.
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it – a second wave of blisters follows the first. The average child develops 250 to 500 pox, before new spots stop appearing by the seventh day. Your child should be kept home from school until all blisters have dried out and all symptoms have disappeared.
Highly contagious, chickenpox is spread through coughs, sneezes and through direct contact with the fluid in the blister of the rash. It is contagious from two days before the rash appears until the blisters have scabbed. The usual time between infection with the virus and development of the illness is approximately two weeks.
The chickenpox blisters are extremely itchy, and it is important to keep your child from scratching them. Tearing the skin can cause permanent scarring or cause a secondary infection. Trim your child’s fingernails, so if he does scratch, he won’t tear the skin. A cool, wet washcloth can help soothe the inflamed skin, and a soak in a lukewarm bath to which oatmeal or an anti-itch soap is added also can help. Applying calamine lotion to the spots may help soothe the itching.
Serve your child foods that are cold, soft and bland, because chickenpox in the mouth may make drinking or eating difficult. Avoid feeding your child anything highly acidic or salty, like orange juice or pretzels. A pain reliever, like acetaminophen, may reduce your child’s fever and help reduce his discomfort. Do not give him aspirin, which can cause Reye syndrome, a serious illness in children and adolescents.
Chickenpox usually occurs in children under 12 years of age, and in this age group usually no special medical treatment is necessary. Children 12 and over are at increased risk for complications and therefore an antiviral medication may be prescribed. In any case, be sure to call your doctor if your child develops any of the following symptoms:
- Fever that lasts for more than four days or rises above 102 degrees
- Severe cough or trouble breathing
- Rash that leaks pus or becomes red, warm, swollen or sore
- Severe headache
- Unusually drowsy or difficult to awaken
- Trouble looking at bright lights
- Difficulty walking
- Seems confused
- Seems very ill or is vomiting
- Stiff neck.
Call your doctor if you think that your child has chickenpox or if your child is over 12 months of age and has not been vaccinated against chickenpox. Also, talk to your doctor if you think your child might be at high risk for complications and might have been exposed to chickenpox – immediate preventive measures may be important. Finally, if you have ANY questions or concerns about possible complications from chickenpox, call your doctor.
Despite its funny name, chickenpox isn’t funny at all when your child is the one who’s sick.
Dr. Dana Galbraith, a Family Medicine specialist, is a member of St. Anthony’s Physician Organization. She practices at St. Anthony’s Family Health Partners, at 59 Grasso Plaza in Affton. Call 314-543-5258 for an appointment. For a referral to any St. Anthony’s physician, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 1-800-554-9550.
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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