Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, a member of the herpes virus family. The same virus is known to cause shingles in adults. It is a common childhood illness, especially in children below 10 years of age. It is very contagious. Direct contact with fluid blisters from chickenpox and aerosols from coughing and sneezing of an infected person can also spread the disease. Infected persons may be contagious even before the itchy blisters appear in the body and remain contagious until the blister crusts over.
The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get vaccination. Children who have been vaccinated reduce their chances of developing chickenpox before the age of one significantly. Moreover, babies whose mothers have already had chickenpox are also less likely to develop the infection due to their mother’s passed immunity through the blood. In the rare cases that they do acquire the disease, it is often mild. Severe cases of chickenpox frequent in children with suppressed immune systems or have not been vaccinated.
Signs and Symptoms of Chickenpox
The incubation period of the virus is typically 14-16 days after direct contact with an infected person, thus symptoms may only manifest then.Not all symptoms will be present,
- Extremely itchy red skin rashes that occur for 10 to 21 days
- Numerous blisters, approximately 250 to 500 in number
- Small and itchy
- Often appear in the face, middle of the body and scalp first, and may eventually spread
- Appearance of new spots every day for five to seven days
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
Not many complications develop from chickenpox. However, these complications may make the infection more difficult to treat. Some of the common complications include:
- Bacterial infection of the skin, soft tissues, bones or bloodstream
- Often from scratching
- May require antibiotics
- Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
- Toxic shock syndrome
- In adults, shingles
- The same virus remains dormant in the body until becomes activated again and causes shingles
First Aid Treatment and Management for Chickenpox
Chickenpox does not usually need medical treatment and can be effectively treated and managed at home. This primarily involves reducing discomfort, promoting healing time, and avoiding complications from progressing. The following tips are suggested:
- Do not scratch or rub the itchy areas. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may help soothe itchy areas. Cut the fingernails short to avoid any further infection from developing.Try wearing gloves, especially at night.
- Take lukewarm baths using minimal soap. Rinse comprehensively. Bathing in oatmeal bath products may also reduce itching.
- After bathing, apply topical moisturizer to soften and cool the skin.
- Wear loose and light bedclothes to avoid skin irritation.Exposure to extreme heat and humidity may also lead to skin irritation.
- To treat fever, paracetamol and ibuprofen may be taken.
- Take plenty of rest.
Disclaimer: The information given in this article should not be substituted for medical advice or medical treatment. To learn how to treat various skin injuries and infections, including chickenpox, enrol in First Aid Courses.