Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It is most common in children, but can also affect adults who have not been previously infected or vaccinated against the virus. The disease is characterized by a distinctive rash of itchy, blister-like lesions that appear on the skin. While chickenpox is generally a mild illness, it can have serious complications in some cases, especially in people with compromised immune systems or certain underlying health conditions. In this article, we will provide an overview of chickenpox in children, including its symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention.
Chickenpox typically begins with a fever, headache, and feeling unwell, followed by the development of a distinctive rash of itchy, blister-like lesions. The rash typically appears on the face, scalp, and chest first, and then spreads to the rest of the body. The blisters are usually filled with fluid and may break open and crust over within a few days. Chickenpox is generally a mild illness that resolves on its own within a week or two, but it can have serious complications in some cases.
The symptoms of chickenpox can vary in severity, but the most common symptoms include:
- Fever: A fever is usually the first sign of chickenpox and may be accompanied by feeling unwell, tiredness, and loss of appetite. The fever can range from mild to high and may last for several days.
- Rash: The most distinctive symptom of chickenpox is a rash of itchy, blister-like lesions that appear on the skin. The rash usually begins on the face, scalp, and chest, and then spreads to the rest of the body. The blisters are usually pink or red and are filled with fluid. They may break open and crust over within a few days. The rash typically appears in crops, with new lesions appearing as older ones crust over.
- Itching: The rash is usually itchy, which can be a source of discomfort for children. The itching may be relieved by over-the-counter medications or by applying calamine lotion to the affected areas.
- Other symptoms: Other common symptoms of chickenpox include a headache, sore throat, cough, and loss of appetite. Children may also experience body aches, abdominal pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is a member of the herpesvirus family. VZV is highly contagious and is spread through the air when an infected person talks, sneezes, or coughs, or by direct contact with the fluid from chickenpox blisters. The virus is most contagious one to two days before the rash appears and until all the blisters have crusted over.
People who have never had chickenpox or been vaccinated against the virus are at risk of contracting the disease. Children are especially susceptible to chickenpox, but adults can also get the disease if they have not been previously infected or vaccinated. People with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or cancer, are more likely to develop severe complications from chickenpox, such as pneumonia, encephalitis, or sepsis. Pregnant women who have not had chickenpox or been vaccinated are at risk of developing severe chickenpox and may also pass the virus on to their unborn child, which can cause birth defects or stillbirth. It is important for people who are at high risk of complications to take steps to prevent the disease, such as getting vaccinated or avoiding close contact with infected individuals.
Chickenpox is generally a mild illness that resolves on its own within a week or two. However, there are some things that can be done to help alleviate the symptoms and prevent complications.
- Medications: Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can be used to reduce fever and relieve body aches. Antihistamines may also be used to reduce itching. It is important to follow the dosing instructions on the medication label and not give aspirin to children, as it has been linked to a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
- Topical treatments: Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can be applied to the affected areas to help reduce itching. Cool compresses or oatmeal baths may also be helpful.
- Bed rest: Children with chickenpox should get plenty of rest and avoid strenuous activities.
- Fluids: It is important to keep children well-hydrated by encouraging them to drink fluids such as water, sports drinks, or electrolyte solutions.
- Isolation: Children with chickenpox should stay home from school or daycare until all the blisters have crusted over to prevent spreading the disease to others.
If complications arise or if the child is at high risk for complications, a healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medications or recommend hospitalization.
The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get vaccinated. The chickenpox vaccine is safe and effective and is recommended for all children. The vaccine is usually given as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule, but it can also be given to older children and adults who have not been previously vaccinated.
In addition to vaccination, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting chickenpox:
- Wash hands frequently: Proper hand hygiene is essential to preventing the spread of infections. Children should be taught to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, especially after touching their face or blowing their nose.
- Avoid close contact with infected people: Children who have chickenpox should stay home from school or daycare until all the blisters have crusted over. Children who have not been vaccinated should avoid close contact with people who have chickenpox or shingles, as they may be at risk of contracting the disease.
- Cover up: Children who have chickenpox should wear loose, cool clothing to help reduce itching and discomfort. Clothing should be washed regularly to prevent the spread of the virus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Chickenpox (Varicella). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/index.html