Viet Nam News
By Dr. Ian Santos*
Chickenpox. A name that can make your skin crawl. The dreaded chickenpox season is almost upon us, with cases tending to spike between March and May.
Known as one of the most common of childhood illnesses, and one of the most uncomfortable, chickenpox is an infection caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, which can also cause shingles.
It causes a fever and widespread crops of blisters, and most children will catch it at some point. It can also occur in adults who didn’t have it in childhood. The illness is usually mild and clears up in two weeks or so, but it can be dangerous for some people, such as pregnant women, newborn babies and people with a weakened immune system.
Symptoms of chickenpox
The symptoms start one to three weeks after infection - a rash that develops in three stages:
Spots – red raised spots develop on the face or chest before spreading to other parts of the body, and over the next few hours or the following day, very itchy fluid-filled blisters develop on top of the spots.
Scabs and crusts – after a further few days, the blisters dry out and scab over to form a crust; the crusts then gradually fall off over the next week or two.
Chickenpox is contagious until all the blisters have scabbed over, which usually happens about five or six days after the rash appears.
How does it spread?
Chickenpox can spread easily. You can get it from an infected person who sneezes, coughs or shares food or drinks. You can also get it if you touch the fluid from a chickenpox blister.
A person who has chickenpox can spread the virus even before he or she has any rash. Chickenpox is most easily spread from 2 to 3 days before the rash appears and until all the blisters have crusted over.
You are at risk of chickenpox if you have never had the illness and haven’t had the chickenpox vaccine. If someone you live with gets chickenpox, your risk is even higher because of the close contact.
Dos And Don’ts
Do prevent chickenpox with the chickenpox vaccine. Children should get it as part of their routine immunizations.
Do keep your child away from school/playgroup/planes and other public areas at the first sign of a rash until the blisters have crusted over as chicken pox is highly contagious.
Don’t send your kid to a "chicken pox party" so they can catch it and "get it over with". I have seen enough cases of severe reaction to chicken pox (including pneumonia and the brain swelling condition, encephalitis). So parents, please don’t play with your kids’ lives.
Do keep a watchful eye as early symptoms can be perceived as grouchiness or aching, and the incubation period (from exposure to full onset) varies from 14 to 24 days.
Do consider offering your child an anti-histamine syrup if they’re older than one year of age, as it can help relieve itching.
Don’t slather your child with calamine lotion as this dries on the skin to become even itchier. Instead, use calamine gel that cools and provides longer-lasting relief.
Do keep your little one’s finger nails short and encourage them not to scratch to minimize scarring. Try putting socks on their hands at night.
Don’t freak out. Chickenpox is typically a mild illness. Once the itching subsides, patients are usually fine and the majority don’t suffer longterm complications.
Do avoid known outbreaks or carriers if you’re pregnant and have never had the infection, as newborn babies are vulnerable to catching it. If you’re pregnant and have chicken pox your doctor might recommend antiviral or immunoglobin treatment. Exclusive breastfeeding offers good protection for newborns against most infections
Don’t hesitate to call your pediatricians when:
a. Your child develops unusual symptoms such as swollen and painful skin, infected blisters or breathing/chest pain.
b. Your baby is less than four weeks old and has chickenpox
If you develop chickenpox as an adult and the symptoms haven’t started to improve after six days, you may need treatment to prevent you becoming seriously ill.— Family Medical Practice
*Doctor Ian Santos is a pediatrician at Family Medical Practice Hanoi. For more advice on any medical topics, visit FMP Hanoi at 298 Kim Mã Street, Ba Đình. Tel: (04) 3843 0748. E: firstname.lastname@example.org. FMP’s downtown Hồ Chí Minh City clinics are located at Diamond Plaza, 34 Lê Duẩn, District 1 and at 95 Thảo Điền Street, District 2. Tel: (08) 38227848. E: email@example.com. FMP Danang is located at 96-98 Nguyễn Văn Linh Street, Hải Châu District, Đà Nẵng. Tel: (511) 3582 699. E: firstname.lastname@example.org.