Chickenpox is a mild and common childhood illness that most children catch at some point. It seems to be everywhere at the minute and while some kids can sail through the illness, others find themselves very sick, cranky and feverish. It is always a problem for parents to figure out if their kids should see the doctor and when they are non-infectious so they can return to school. This article should answer some common questions about this highly contagious virus.
Chickenpox causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters. They then crust over to form scabs, which eventually drop off. Some children have only a few spots, but other children can have spots that cover their entire body. These are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest and belly, and on the arms and legs.
However, the spots can be anywhere on the body, even inside the ears and mouth, on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and inside the nappy area. Although the rash starts as small, itchy red spots, these develop a blister on top and become intensely itchy after about 12-14 hours. After a day or two, the fluid in the blisters gets cloudy and they begin to dry out and crust over. After one to two weeks, the crusting skin will fall off naturally. New spots can keep appearing in waves for three to five days after the rash begins. Therefore, different clusters of spots may be at different stages of blistering or drying out.
Before the rash appears, you or your child may have some mild flu-like symptoms, including:
- feeling sick
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
- aching, painful muscles
- generally feeling unwell
- loss of appetite
Chickenpox (known medically as varicella) is caused by a virus called the varicella-zoster virus. It’s spread quickly and easily from someone who is infected and has the rash. The blisters are very itchy and break open easily, which can contaminate surfaces or objects. The virus may then be transferred by touching the surface or object, then touching your face. The virus is also contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This can also contaminate surfaces or objects and help the spread of the infection.
Someone with chickenpox is most infectious from one to two days before the rash appears, until all the blisters have crusted over. This usually takes five to six days from the start of the rash. Chickenpox is most common in children under the age of 10. In fact, chickenpox is so common in childhood that over 90% of adults are immune to the condition because they’ve had it before. Children usually catch chickenpox in winter and spring, particularly between March and May.
What to do
To prevent spreading the infection, keep children off nursery or school until all their spots have crusted over. If your child has chickenpox, try to keep them away from public areas to avoid contact with people who may not have had it, especially people who are at risk of serious problems, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system (for example, people having cancer treatment or taking steroid tablets).
Chickenpox in children is considered a mild illness, but your child will probably feel pretty miserable and irritable while they have it. Your child may have a fever for the first few days of the illness. The spots can be incredibly itchy.
There is no specific treatment for chickenpox, but there are pharmacy remedies in Grant’s Pharmacy that can alleviate symptoms. These include paracetamol to relieve fever, and calamine lotion and cooling gels to ease itching as well as anti-histamine liquids – e.g. Phenergan or Zirtek. Our staff in Grant’s Pharmacy can guide you to the most appropriate remedy for you or your children. The most effective treatment for the irritated skin in chicken pox, available at Grant’s Pharmacy, is called Poxclin and gives immediate relief to your child. PoxClin CoolMousse relieves the symptoms of chickenpox and is used for rapid relief from irritation, itching and sensitivity associated with chickenpox. Intended for larger areas, PoxClin CoolMousse is absorbed rapidly by the skin and provides a direct cooling and soothing effect. PoxClin CoolMousse contains a unique bioactive bacterial blocker for an effective treatment to sooth the itch, to recondition the skin and to help prevent scar tissue formation. This blocker helps your child’s skin’s natural skin barrier by blocking harmful bacteria. The bacterial blocker in PoxClin is derived from the Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) plant.
Advantages of PoxClin CoolMousse
– No harsh chemicals or toxic substances
– Blocks harmful bacteria and microbes from causing infections
– Prevents scar tissue formation
– No negative impact on the body’s own cells
– Accelerates natural healing process
– Does not provoke resistance
– No negative side-effects
– Instant cooling effect for immediate relief of chickenpox symptoms
– Can be used on damaged and scratched skin
How to Use Poxciln
Apply 3 times daily or whenever relief is needed. For external use only. Rub the mousse softly on the skin. As this is a light, smooth mousse, it will be absorbed quickly and easily by the skin. Zirtek liquid and Paracetamol or Ibuprofen (Nurofen or Easofen) can be given in conjunction with the mousse.
In most children, the blisters crust up and fall off naturally within one to two weeks. It is important for children (and adults) with chickenpox to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. For most children, chickenpox is a mild illness that gets better on its own. However, some children can become more seriously ill with chickenpox and need to see a doctor. Contact your GP straight away if your child develops any abnormal symptoms, such as:
- if the blisters on their skin become infected
- if your child has a pain in their chest or has difficulty breathing
Chickenpox may be a childhood illness, but adults can get it too. Chickenpox tends to be more severe in adults than children, and adults have a higher risk of developing complications. As with children, adults with chickenpox should stay off work until all the spots have crusted over. They should seek medical advice if they develop any abnormal symptoms, such as infected blisters for which they may need antibiotics. Adults with chickenpox may benefit from taking antiviral medicine, but this treatment is only beneficial if it is started early in the course of the illness.
Who’s at special risk?
Some children and adults are at special risk of serious problems if they catch chickenpox. They include:
- pregnant women
- newborn babies
- people with a weakened immune system
These people should seek medical advice as soon as they are exposed to the chickenpox virus or they develop chickenpox symptoms. They may need a blood test to check if they are protected from (immune to) chickenpox.
Chickenpox in pregnancy
Chickenpox occurs in approximately 3 in every 1,000 pregnancies. It can cause serious complications for both the pregnant woman and her baby. It is advisable to contact your GP as soon as possible if you suspect you have the virus during your pregnancy.
Chickenpox and shingles
Once you have had chickenpox, you usually develop antibodies to the infection and become immune to catching it again. However, the virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus, remains inactive (dormant) in your body’s nerve tissues and can return later in life as an illness called shingles. It’s possible to catch chickenpox from someone with shingles, but not the other way around. Shingles is a re-activation of the chicken pox virus later in life and is not ‘picked up’ from a person with chicken pox.