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Chickenpox in children: Tips and advices

Chicken Pox

Chicken Pox

When your child has chickenpox

There are some countries where chickenpox was a bit forgotten, after all a vaccine already exists, so no need to go through it, but still in many countries the vaccine for chickenpox isn't used. Mainly the reason for not using the vaccine is that it's really not such a threatening disease, actually if you have it during your child years, you will be automatically immune to that disease for the rest of your life and most people have it during their childhood years.

Now, if that is not the case and a grown up has chicken pox, well, most probably it won't be serious, but it will be hard, because the rash is much serious in adults, because the fever is much worse and because the itching will drive one absolutely mad.

But the fact is that 90 % of the population has chickenpox during childhood years and usually it is quite mild and probably, if the child attends the kindergarten, it just means a few days of fun and games with mom.

Nonetheless, there are always things to be on the look out and there are always things that can go wrong, so let's learn a bit more about chickenpox.

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a contagious illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It appears more often during Winter and Spring and it spreads from person to person contact. Usually it appears in children under 8 years old and it is a once in a life thing, so after getting chickenpox a person is immune. There have been some documented cases of a second appearance of chickenpox, but those are very rare.

This illness causes a rash through the entire body, especially in the torso, that looks like red bumps that turn into blisters, which start itching.

Although, there are other symptoms, such as fever, sored throat, loss of appetite and tiredness, the bumps and blisters are actually the most important feature of chickenpox.

In some cases the secondary symptoms don't even show up, in others they are very mild.

The bumps and blisters, which eventually crust and scab over, are important because those are the cause of all the itching, that can cause the person to scratch and pop the blister or if there is already the crust to take it out. In the first case it can lead to an infection, which can be quite serious, the second it can leave marks where the crust was. So, no scratching is the main rule of this illness.

So, mostly chickenpox is about discomfort, not felling that well, a bit feverish and wanting to scratch here and there, but unless there is some previous condition or something out of the ordinary that can cause the illness to escalate and become something serious, it is quite manageable...

And then we all know children and how, so long they can run and play, all is well...

Chickenpox spreads from person to person contact, either through direct contact with the rash, which implies touch or through the air, when the infected person sneezes or coughs.

But actually the person is already infected around 10 to 21 days before having the actual symptoms, so that person will be spreading the illness even then, which makes it harder to control.

Usually the first symptoms are the fever and the tiredness, it's almost like that person has a common cold. After a few days the first bumps should appear, usually they start appearing on the back and abdomen and spread all over the body, in some cases even on the scalp, inside the mouth, etc.

The rule says that the earlier a child has chickenpox the lighter the illness and its symptoms will be.

Once the first bump appears it usually takes around 7 to 10 days to consider the illness gone. The person is no longer contagious, once the scabs crust.

Chickenpox stories

I had chickenpox when I was 7 years old and I have a fun and happy memory of those days, much like many of my friends. You see, it's one of those illnesses that every child (almost) has and it's not such a bad time, after all just a bit of fever, some itching here and there, but manageable and my mother hoovering over me, taking care of me and giving me all sorts of treats. I had a wonderful time, I didn't even have a lot of blisters...

My poor sister, on the other hand, had a terrible time. You see, she was one of the exceptions, one of those that didn't have it while she was a child. So, by the time I was 7 years old, she was almost 16 years old and, of course, we were always hugging and kissing and playing, since we were always very close - I actually don't understand until this day how she put up with me, because I remember being quite an annoying child - and the result was she got it also, but for her it wasn't a walk in the park. I remember she had to stay in bed, she was running high fever and she seemed a giant blister, because you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began. She had blisters all over her scalp, even, and the urge to scratch was unbelievable. Eventually, it was over and she never held that against me...

That's the reason so many people actually want their children to have chickenpox the sooner the better - obviously not as babies, since it is very dangerous then - and that's why so many people don't object their children to be near others that are infected with the varicella-zoster virus.

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Since mid summer that other children at my kids' kindergarten have been having chickenpox. First one, then another and I knew soon it would be my kids turn, therefore it didn't come as a surprise waking up on Saturday morning to two dotted little persons standing in front of me soon as I opened my eyes.

We went to the doctor just to make sure and there we met one of their little friends with the same affliction. After a brief look over the bumps and blisters the doctor declared, what we already knew - chickenpox - and recommended rest for 10 days and an antihistamine medication to relieve itching and she sent us on our way.

Home we came and apart from a little temperature that isn't really worth mentioning, the bumps and blisters started popping here and there, but again nothing that could be mood altering, so we are all full of good spirits and laughs and are actually enjoying this time together.

Chicken Pox

Chicken Pox

What to do: tips and advices

Though in most cases, chickenpox is just a matter of waiting for it to be over, there are some things you can do to make it a bit better...

And there are some medications that are completely off limits with chickenpox:

- Under no circumstance give the child ibuprofen or aspirin - aspirin can cause an illness called Reye’s syndrome.

Apart from that, the usual over the counter medications to relieve pain or fever, such as paracetamol, or an antihistamine for the itching can be administered - although you must always check with your doctor first.

There are some anti-itch lotions that can be used.

Also, keep the child hydrated and keep the blisters clean and dry.

Finally, if the itching is quite bad try to give the child an oatmeal bath. It may sound funny, but it relieves the itching and soothes the skin, just add oatmeal to the bathwater. If it still sounds funny, just try a warm water bath. Either way be careful drying the child, do it very gently, patting the towel, instead of wiping.

Don't forget to constantly advise your child not to scratch, since they seem to forget it often and scratching leads to scarring.

Be careful

Even though almost everyone doesn't take chickenpox that serious, it is still a illness and like every other illness it still requires care and rest and being careful.

As far as the child goes it's important to make sure the child doesn't scratch causing an infection, be on the look out for any pus or drainage and in case of an infection take the child to the doctor, since it may be necessary to administer some kind of antibiotic to prevent the infection from spreading.

You can also cut the child's nails, as soon as you realize the child has chickenpox, to minimize the damage if she scratches.

If the rash spreads near the eyes, contact the doctor as soon as possible.

Also, be on the look out for fever that goes away, but returns after starting treatment.

Finally, if you don't notice any improvement in the symptoms after seven days, you should contact the doctor.

Make sure the child doesn't come in contact with other people that are more at risk of complications due to chickenpox, such as babies under 1 year old, pregnant women, people with immune system problems and older children or adults, since chickenpox may be dangerous to any of these groups or, in the case of older children and adults may be much more serious and difficult to overcome.

End note

So, what have we learned? That chickenpox is an infectious illness, that sometimes it can cause serious complications, for those groups of people at higher risk - that have previous medical conditions or take medications that can cause problems, that already have compromised immune system and similar situations - but that normally it just means 10 days at home, a lot of fluids and rest.

Therefore, if you woke - like me - to a dotted child, try to relax, take your child to the doctor, follow his/her instructions and make the best of it, think of it like some quality time with your child, because in most cases they feel just great, even with chickenpox, and all they want is our love and loads of games and play...


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ankitakayal on November 23, 2016:

me and my sister have got the disease for like 2 nights and its already spreaded to our whole body. I was really scared about the marks and all but now i feel a bit confident that i can take care of myself and get well thank u.....but still im a bit scared about the scars ...

Joana e Bruno (author) from Algarve, Portugal on January 02, 2013:

Hi, Vespawoolf, I know what you mean, around here moms also don't mind that kids get it asap "to get it over with"... It's not that we actually expose them on purpose, but we don't get upset if they've been near a child that has it... Thanks for reading and commenting! Have a great day and a happy 2013!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on December 31, 2012:

I also contracted chicken pox as a little girl. Your poor sister! It would be painful and embarrassing to get it as a teenager. I remember my mother put socks on my hands so I couldn't scratch as I slept, but other than that I don't remember much discomfort. Of course, back then they didn't know about not administering aspirin. There was a chicken pox epidemic here in Peru a while back and many mothers exposed their young children "to get it over with". Thank you for these helpful precautions.

Joana e Bruno (author) from Algarve, Portugal on November 27, 2012:

Hi, Brett, there have been cases of a second infection with chickenpox, but those are very rare and exceptions. The rule is once you have it, you won't catch it a second time, but again, there are always exceptions to every rule. Anyway, for an adult chickenpox is really difficult, so better be careful... Thanks a lot for reading, commenting, sharing and voting. Take care!

Brett C from Asia on November 26, 2012:

Now, I'm not 100% sure, but I seem to remember hearing that chicken pox can be caught as an adult, even if you have had it before. I think that the virus then causes shingles instead ... far worse. The chances as slim, but worth being careful while around those infected, as you said ... symptoms are worse as you get older!

Shared, up and useful.

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