Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 August 2011 13:41
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Most children will catch chicken pox before the age of 10. It is a common and usually mild illness caused by the Varicella zoster virus.
Chicken Pox Overview
Chicken pox is a highly infectious but usually mild, disease caused by the herpes group of viruses. The virus is spread either by direct contact with the rash, or by droplets expelled into the air through coughing or sneezing.
Who Gets Chicken Pox?
Chicken pox tends to affect children under ten and most children will have had it by this age. In older children and adults, chicken pox can be more severe.
Chicken pox occurs worldwide and is seen throughout the year in areas with temperate climate, peaking during the months of March through May. 90% of cases are seen in children aged 14 years and younger.
Chicken Pox Symptoms
Chicken pox is characterized by a red, itchy rash, which blisters and then crusts over within two weeks. Mild flu-like symptoms are usually present before the appearance of the rash, and may cause fever, body aches, headache, nausea and loss of appetite.
The rash usually begins on the body and then spreads to the face, arms and legs. The rash shows up as small red spots which develop into fluid filled blisters within a few hours. After a couple of days the blisters form scabs. Chicken pox usually runs its course in 7-10 days.
Chicken pox is contagious from about 3 days before the rash appears and until all blisters have crusted over.
Chicken Pox Diagnosis
A diagnosis of chicken pox is made on the basis of the patient's history, the appearance of the rash and physical findings.
Chicken Pox Complications
Complications from chicken pox are rare in children. The most common complication is bacterial infection which can cause the spots to become more red and inflamed. Complication in adults and those with weakened immune system are more common and include pneumonia and liver inflammation.
Chicken Pox Treatment
No specific medical treatment is usually required for chicken pox. Painkillers (ibuprofen, paracetamol) can help to reduce pain and fever. Calamine lotion is also commonly used for local application to reduce itching. Over the counter treatments like antihistamines may be used for the relief of severe itching. Some of these cause drowsiness and may help the patient sleep at night. Frequent baths may also help to ease itching. Finely ground oatmeal or baking soda may be added to the bath water to soothe the skin. Avoid tepid sponging.
Its important not to scratch the scabs as this increases the risk of secondary bacterial infection. Mittens or socks can be worn at night to prevent scratching during sleep.
IMPORTANT: Do not use aspirin.
Antiviral drugs may occasionally be prescribed for people who have a high risk of complications from chicken pox. These reduce the duration of the infection and minimize the risk of complications. (See detailed treatment section)
If your child has chicken pox they should stay away from school until the last blister has crusted over. He or she should also avoid contact with others who might be at a high risk of infection, such as newborn babies and people with a weak immune system.
Chicken Pox Prevention
Keep your child away from school or nursery. Inform the child's school of his health condition and let him or her return to school only once the blisters have fully crusted over.
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