Chickenpox

By:    Published: August 15, 2012

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The chickenpox is one of the most widely known ailments that affects children throughout the United States. Prior to the creation of a vaccine, most people experience chickenpox some time before adulthood. Here is what you need to know about the disease along with tips you can use to comfort a person afflicted by chickenpox.

Definition

Chickenpox is an extremely contagious illness among kids and is caused by the varicella zoster virus (often abbreviated as VZV). The same virus also causes a latent medical condition known as shingles later in the adult life. Hence, if a child is exposed to an individual with shingles, the exposed child may also develop chickenpox.

While chickenpox is usually considered as a mild condition and goes away by itself, it can cause serious and potentially life threatening conditions if contracted by infants, pregnant women, the elderly or people with a compromised immune system. Fortunately, once an individual experiences chickenpox and recovers, he or she will be protected from the virus for life. About 4 million people contract the disease annually in the United States, where 10,600 of such become hospitalized and 100 dies as a result. However, such numbers have been drastically reduced thanks to the vaccine, which was introduced to the United States in 1995.

Symptoms And Signs

In most cases, signs and symptoms of chickenpox become apparent within several days after infection, and just need to be waited out. The duration may last from about 5 to 10 days. Symptoms include:

  • Red, itchy rash
  • Itchy, fluid filled blisters that crusts easily
  • High fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • A dry cough
  • The rash and blisters can show up anywhere on the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids, genital area, face, back, and chest.

Medical Attention

If any of such symptoms occur, it would be best to see a doctor immediately for more effective remedies:

  • Indication of a bacterial infection, such as the formation of pus
  • Indication of the rash spreading to one or both eyes
  • Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, tremors, dizziness, loss of muscle coordination
  • A fever higher than 103 F
  • A fever that lasts longer than 4 days
  • Vomiting
  • If symptoms do not get better within 5 to 10 days

If individuals who are in the high risk group contract chickenpox, it is important to see a doctor immediately to prevent further complications. These individuals include:

  • Pregnant women. Women who never had chickenpox before are at a higher risk of contracting the illness during pregnancy. If contracted when pregnant, the virus can cause significant damage to fetal development, including blindness and mental retardation.
  • The elderly. While most children successfully recover from chickenpox, it can cause serious complications for older adults, as their bodies may not be well equipped to fight chickenpox symptoms. The varicella virus also causes shingles, a painful string of blisters, in the elderly. Fortunately, there is a vaccine against shingles, so be sure to get those at risk the booster shot.
  • Infants and newborns. Babies are generally not yet ready to battle the trials of the chickenpox, and contracting the disease in the first few months of their life can be a life threatening condition. Inquire about the chickenpox vaccine for your newborn.
  • People with compromised immune systems. Individuals undergoing chemotherapy, have had transplants, or have AIDS or HIV are at higher risk for chickenpox complications that can lead to life threatening conditions. Be sure to speak with a healthcare provider on ways to protect yourself.

Tips For Alleviation

Here are some tips you can employ at home to lessen the discomfort of chickenpox:

  • Take cool baths and/or an oatmeal bath.
  • Avoid using a bath sponge or towel during bathing to prevent scab irritation.
  • Calamine lotion can help with itchy blisters.
  • Take acetaminophen for fever relief. Do not take aspirin, as it has been linked to Reye’s Syndrome in children when used during the time of chicken pox.
  • Drink lots of fluids to keep the body hydrated.

Prevention

The chickenpox vaccine was first utilized in Japan and Korea in 1988, and was introduced to the United States in 1995. It is now common practice to vaccinate infants, and follow with a booster shot when the child is around 5 to 6 years old. Those who are vaccinated still have a 25 to 30 percent chance of getting chickenpox, but will be drastically milder than those who are unvaccinated. This may be a good investment for some people, so be sure to consult your doctor about the chickenpox vaccine.

Be sure to ask your healthcare provider about chickenpox vaccination for your children. They may not have to endure the uncomfortable and itchy experience you may have had as a child.

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