by Tash Hughes of
Everybody has heard of Chicken Pox,
and many have seen the scars at some point. But do you
really know what chicken pox is?
By the way,
chicken pox has absolutely nothing to do with chickens.
The name is based on the Latin word cicer, meaning
chickpeas, as the blisters were thought to resemble
chickpeas on the skin!
Chicken pox is a
viral infection caused by Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV.)
This virus is part of the Herpes virus family and is not
affected by antibiotics (as these only attack bacteria.)
speaking, Chicken pox is a mild infection that causes
little concern. However, it can have some serious
complications, especially for certain groups of people.
It is most common in children between 5 and 9 years of
age, although all ages are susceptible to it.
The most telling
symptom of chicken pox is an itchy red rash starting on
the face and torso. Crops of blisters appear for 2 to 4
days, gradually spreading over the entire body,
including the scalp, penis and inside the mouth, ears,
nose and vagina.
Each blister is
about 5 -10 mm across and has a red base to it. After a
few days, the blister will crust over and appear brown
with the scab eventually falling off. Some people have
only a few blisters whilst others get hundreds of them.
A fever is
common, whilst some people also develop mild abdominal
pain and a sense of being unwell. The severity of the
disease tends to be worse with age; adults are sicker
and more uncomfortable than children, and it tends to
take longer for adults to recover.
the patient is contagious for two days before the
rash is visible so the disease is easily spread before
the patient is aware of being ill. Patients are excluded
from school and work for about one week, until all the
blisters have dried and formed scabs.
Some other facts
about chicken pox:
- Incubation of
7 – 21 days, with 14 – 17 days the most common.
This means that the disease will show
about 14 days after exposure to the virus.
- The disease
lasts for 7 – 10 days in children
- Chicken pox is highly
About 90% of non-immune people will develop it once
- A vaccine is available
- Spread via
the fluids of the nose and the actual blisters
- Having had
chicken pox, the person is then immune for life
- Many people
who don’t recall having had chicken pox are still
immune – some have ‘silent infections’
recovery, the virus lies dormant and may develop later
into the shingles
Is there any
There is no
medication or cure for chicken pox in the general
usually symptomatic; that is, treatment is aimed at
reducing the itchiness and temptation of scratching.
Some means of reducing this are:
Applying a wet compress
Having an oatmeal bath
(add oatmeal or a commercial preparation)
Only pat blisters dry –
don’t rub or the blisters will break
Apply calamine lotion
Keep finger nails very
For very young
children, consider mittens or socks over their hands to
prevent scratching, especially in their sleep
Anaesthetic creams are
available if need be – speak to a pharmacist if the
genital areas in particular are painful
drinking are not pleasant when the mouth is full of
blisters, either. A mild pain relief mixture may be
used, as well as only having soft, bland foods and cold
fluids. Acidic foods and drinks, such as orange juice
and tomatoes, should be avoided, as should salty foods
as both aggravate the sores.
Doctor is not required for chicken pox, other than
confirmation of the diagnosis. The exceptions are when
complications are suspected, the fever reaches 39.4oC
and when the blisters are infected. Infected blisters
are red, swollen and painful or will be leaking pus;
secondary infections may require antibiotic treatment.
NOTE: Do NOT
administer aspirin to anyone under the age of twenty
during an attack of chicken pox, and other viral
infections. Doing so increases the risk of Reye’s
Syndrome, which can be fatal.
Who needs to
worry about chicken pox?
Chicken pox is
generally a mild disease, although it is much worse in
adults. However, there are exceptions to this and they
need to be taken very seriously.
Chicken pox is
potentially deadly for children with leukaemia and
immune deficiency diseases. Children on steroids (eg
for asthma or poison ivy) are also at greater risk of
About 10% of
infected adults will develop the very serious Chicken
Pox Pneumonia, which can be life threatening. Anybody
with chicken pox who develops a fever with rapid
breathing, a dry cough, chest pain or has any difficulty
breathing needs medical attention promptly as these are
potentially signs of pneumonia.
to get pregnant should have their immunity tested if
they are not sure about having chicken pox previously.
Some medical people believe that the pregnant woman is
at more risk of complications, although this is disputed
by other Doctors.
What is not
disputed, however, is the risk to an unborn child if the
Mother develops chicken pox in the first half of the
pregnancy or around the time of delivery. Chicken pox in
early pregnancy can lead to birth defects such as limb
deformities, scarring, eye problems, muscle and bone
defects, blindness, mental retardation, seizures, an
undersized head or, rarely, cause a miscarriage. Late
pregnancy chicken pox makes for very ill newborns, with
30% of them dying if untreated.
immunity is developed either through having the disease
or the vaccination. The only other means of reducing the
risk of catching it is the avoidance of people with or
recently exposed to chicken pox.
someone with chicken pox, such as nursing your child,
ensure that all tissues are carefully disposed of and
hands washed thoroughly after each one. Do not touch the
blisters if at all avoidable – note that the virus can't
be caught via water, so baths are perfectly safe to
People in high
risk groups who have been exposed to the virus can be
treated with VZIG (Varicella Zoster Immune Globulin)
which will prevent the disease starting or keep it mild.
This does not give immunity though, and only protects
for about three weeks.
Tash Hughes is
the owner of Word Constructions and assists businesses
in preparing all written documentation and web site
content. Tash also writes parenting and business articles for
inclusion in newsletter and web sites.