What is Chickenpox?
Chicken Pox is an ubiquitous and extremely contagious viral illness. The primary illness, characterized by a generalized skin rash, is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus. Recurrence of the infection results in a localized skin rash, otherwise known as shingles or Herpes Zoster. Chicken Pox, often confused with Small Pox in earlier times, occurs seasonally and in epidemics the world over. Humans are the only known reservoir. The virus is spread by the respiratory route and is a common infection in children.
The typical sign of chicken pox is an irritating, itchy rash that starts on the trunk and slowly spreads over the face, including the scalp, mouth and ears, and also the upper arms and legs. Scabs form over the lesions after four or five days and may stay for one or two weeks after which they drop off. In addition, children may also develop fever, chills, nausea and vomiting.
Chickenpox spreads easily. It is most contagious the day before the rash appears.
- It spreads from person to person through direct contact with the virus. You can get chickenpox if you touch a blister, or the liquid from a blister. You can also get chickenpox if you touch the spit of a person who has chickenpox. The virus enters the body by the nose or mouth and can make you sick also.
- It can also spread through the air, if you are near someone with chickenpox who is coughing or sneezing.
- A pregnant woman with chickenpox can pass it on to her baby before birth.
- Mothers with chickenpox can also give it to their newborn babies after birth.
The only way to stop the spread of the virus from person to person is to prevent infected people from sharing the same room or house, which isn’t practical. Chickenpox cannot be spread through indirect contact. You may notice several symptoms before the typical chickenpox rash appears. Known as prodromal, or early symptoms, they include fever, a vague feeling of sickness, or decreased appetite. Within a few days, a rash appears. The rash looks like small red pimples or blisters. Chickenpox does not infect chickens (humans are the only animal infected by the VZV virus), but it was felt that the red pimples resembled chick peas, hence the name “chickenpox.”
Parents can do several things at home to help relieve their child’s chickenpox symptoms. Because scratching the blisters may cause them to become infected, keep your child’s fingernails trimmed short. Calamine lotion and Aveeno® (oatmeal) baths may help relieve some of the itching. Do not use aspirin or aspirin-containing products to relieve your child’s fever. The use of aspirin in children with chickenpox has been associated with development of Reye’s syndrome (a severe disease affecting all organs, but most seriously affecting the liver and brain, that may cause death). Use non-aspirin medications such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®).