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Dr Chris Steele

 

Chicken Pox


What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a common infectious disease caused by a virus.

Before the spots appear:
After an incubation period of 14 - 21 days, there may be a slight fever with mild headache, most patients have no symptoms at all until the spots appear.

The Spots:
The spots of chickenpox can be very itchy. They appear first on the head and trunk and next on the arms and legs. They last for 7 - 10 days.

The spots look like tiny blisters on a red base. They can occur wherever there is skin, even inside the mouth, eyelids, nose, ears, vagina, and even the anus (back passage).

Itchy spots in awkward places can be very distressing to the child. The blisters dry and crust over, and are infectious until the crusts have dropped off. The spots of chickenpox can cause shallow scars, this occurs if they have become infected or if they have been scratched badly.

To reduce the risk of scarring see 'How should you treat chickenpox?'

Complications:
Chickenpox is not usually serious. Only rarely may there be complications such as encephalitis.

There may be a risk to the unborn baby if a pregnant mother develops the disease, or to the newborn baby if mother develops chickenpox within 5 days of delivery.

What causes chickenpox?
The virus that causes chickenpox is a member of the herpes virus family. This family of viruses is also implicated in cold sores, shingles and genital herpes.

Can you prevent chickenpox?
There is currently no vaccination although research in this area looks promising. Little can be done to prevent your child getting this disease and as it is not a serious illness, your child is better to get this condition 'over and done with' before adulthood. Adults do have a terrible time when they catch chickenpox!

The little spots or blisters of chickenpox are full of the liquid containing the virus so the spots are highly infectious. So, if Mum or Dad have not had chickenpox, don't touch the spots and don't use your child's towel, etc.!

How should you treat chickenpox?
Yourself:

  • Keep child cool - cool room, cool drinks, cool bed. (See fever management article.)
  • Paracetamol may ease pain of spots in sensitive areas
  • Calamine lotion applied to skin can relieve itchiness
  • Leave nappies off to allow spots to dry
  • Keep your child's fingernails short
  • Stay at home/off school until crusts have come off spots
  • Consult GP to confirm diagnosis

 

Call G.P. if:

  • Child is very distressed
  • Spots show presence of pus
  • Child is feverish
  • Child has neckache or severe headache
  • You are worried!