Chickenpox also known as varicella is a contagious illness that mainly affects children and causes an itchy rash and red spots or blisters all over the body. Most children will catch chickenpox at some point.
Usually chickenpox isn’t a serious health problem in healthy children. But a child with chickenpox needs to stay home from school.
The infection appears 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus and usually lasts about five to 10 days.
The main symptom is a rash that develops in three stages:
•stage 1: spots – red raised spots develop on the face or chest before spreading to other parts of the body
•stage 2: blisters – over the next few hours or the following day, very itchy fluid-filled blisters develop on top of the spots
•stage 3: scabs and crusts – after a further few days, the blisters dry out and scab over to form a crust; the crusts then gradually fall off by themselves over the next week or two
Chickenpox is contagious until all the blisters have scabbed over, which usually happens about five or six days after the rash appeared.
Other symptoms include:
•Tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell (malaise)
How can you prevent chickenpox?
You can prevent chickenpox with the chickenpox vaccine.
How to treat chickenpox at home
Treatment for chickenpox depends on your age, your health, how long it’s been since you were exposed to the virus and your symptoms.
Most healthy children and adults need only home treatment for chickenpox.
You or your child will probably feel pretty miserable and uncomfortable, but treatment can help relieve the symptoms.
The following can help:
•Take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol to relieve fever and discomfort
•Use calamine lotion, moisturising creams or cooling gels to ease itching
•Tap or pat the skin rather than scratching it – it’s important to avoid scratching because this can lead to further problems
•Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
Most people with home treatment will make a full recovery. But occasionally serious complications can occur.
These are more common in adults, pregnant women, newborn babies and people with weakened immune systems.
Possible complications include:
1)A bacterial skin infection – this can cause the skin to become red, swollen and painful The skin may be infected if it becomes:
•painful and tender
2)A lung infection (pneumonia) – this can cause a persistent cough, breathing difficulties and chest pain
Symptoms of pneumonia can include:
•a persistent cough
•sweating and shivering
3)Infections of the brain or nerves
In rare cases, chickenpox can lead to more serious infections of the brain and spinal cord in children, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.
This can cause:
•a lack of energy
•a stiff neck
•problems with walking, balance or speech
Some people with chickenpox may develop shingles later in life. This is a painful, blistery rash caused by the chickenpox virus becoming reactivated.
4) Pregnancy problem
If you become infected with chickenpox for the first time while you’re pregnant, there is a small risk of potentially serious complications affecting your baby.
Stronger treatments from a doctor
Antiviral medication or a treatment called immunoglobulin may be recommended if you’re at risk of developing severe chickenpox.
Those at risk include:
•adults, especially those who smoke
•newborn babies under four weeks old
•people with a weakened immune system, such as people with HIV, those taking high doses of steroid medication and those having chemotherapy
An antiviral medicine may be recommended if you’re at risk of severe chickenpox and you already have symptoms.
Immunoglobulin is a treatment given by injection that can help prevent severe chickenpox if you’ve been exposed to someone with the infection but don’t have any symptoms yet.
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