By Adamos Chatzipanagis, paediatrician
What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a mild contagious disease, caused by the chickenpox and herpes zoster virus. The same virus can cause herpes zoster in adults, after remaining dormant for many years. Chickenpox mainly affects the skin and the interior (mucosa) of the mouth and the throat. The virus has an incubation period of 7 to 21 days.
What are the symptoms?
The main, and often first symptom of chickenpox, is a rash. Groups of small red spots containing fluid appear on many parts of the body. After a few days, the spots burst or dry out, and a scab forms. These spots cause intense itching. Those that are located around the mouth, the eyes, or the vagina can be very painful. The child may have a slight temperature, but usually doesn’t appear very unwell. However, adults with chickenpox usually have symptoms similar to those of influenza, for 2 to 3 days before the the rash appears. Children recover quickly, in 7-10 days.
What are the risks?
Chickenpox is a common and very contagious children’s disease. Repeated scratching may cause the spots to become infected. Your doctor can recommend an antibiotic ointment or medication if this happens.
In rare cases, otitis, encephalitis, or pneumonia appears.
What is the treatment?
The application of calamine lotion helps relieve itching. Antihistamines and keeping the nails short can also help. If the rash around the mouth or the eyes is painful, the doctor can recommend a painkiller.
Never give aspirin to children or adults who have, or may have, chickenpox. It has been associated with Reye syndrome, a potentially fatal disease.
When can my child go back to school?
The child is contagious for about 7 days from the appearance of the first spots, or until the spots no longer have fluid in them, and just a scab remains.
Can you get chickenpox more than once?
Very rarely. The child produces antibodies, which usually last a lifetime.
Caution! The child should not come into contact with a pregnant woman who has not had chickenpox!
Can chickenpox be prevented?
There is an effective vaccine, which according to the National Vaccinations Program, is administered after the first 12 months, and is repeated up until 5 years of age.