Probably the most notorious and most well-known illness a childhood illness catches is chickenpox. This infection is virtually unavoidable and when a child does contract it, you’ll be the first to know due to its obvious symptoms and your child complaining of severe discomfort. It’s one of those nasty viruses that almost every person suffers from when they are a youngster but even though it is treatable, it is important to know the signs and symptoms to not spread it to any other children.
What Is Chickenpox?
So, what exactly is Chickenpox? Essentially, it is a viral infection that causes your child to have a fever and an itchy rash with spots all over their body. Once upon a time, chickenpox was a common childhood illness in the United States, especially in kids under age 12, but thankfully it is much rarer now, thanks to the varicella vaccine.
What Causes Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This virus also can cause a painful skin rash called shingles (herpes zoster) later in life. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the nervous system for the rest of a person’s life. It’s worth mentioning that the virus can reactivate later in life as shingles, however, kids who are vaccinated against chickenpox are much less likely to develop shingles when they get older.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Chickenpox?
Typically, chickenpox starts without the classic rash, with a fever, headache, sore throat, or stomachache. These symptoms may last for a few days, with the fever in the 101°–102°F range. After this, the red, itchy skin rash usually starts on the belly or back and face. After this, it spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, arms, legs, and genitals.
The rash begins with many small red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites. They appear in waves over 2 to 4 days, then develop into thin-walled blisters filled with fluid. The blister walls break, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs. All three stages of the chickenpox rash (red bumps, blisters, and scabs) appear on the body at the same time. Sometimes the rash may spread wider or be more severe in kids who have weak immune systems or skin disorders like eczema.
Thankfully, symptoms are usually mild among children but may be life-threatening to children, adults, and people with impaired immune systems or healthy infants. Symptoms to look out for are fatigue, irritability, an itchy, red rash that progresses to tiny, fluid-filled blisters, fever, decreased appetite, muscle and/or joint pain, and a cough or runny nose.
The symptoms of chickenpox may resemble other skin problems or medical conditions. Making it important to consult your child’s healthcare provider for a legitimate diagnosis.
Is Chickenpox Contagious?
Chickenpox is very contagious. Most kids with a sibling who’s infected will most likely contract it and will show symptoms about 2 weeks after the first child does. If you do have multiple children, make sure the child with chickenpox covers their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. Because chickenpox is so contagious, a child who has it should stay home and rest until the rash is completely gone and all the blisters have dried. This takes about 1 week, but if you are unsure about whether your child is ready to return to school, ask your healthcare provider.
How Is Chickenpox Diagnosed?
Medical professionals can usually diagnose chickenpox just by looking at the obvious rash. From there, they can guide you in watching for complications and in choosing different medicine to ease your child’s itching. It’s important that if you take your child to their healthcare provider to let the staff know ahead of time that your child might have chickenpox to not expose other kids in the office — for some children, a chickenpox infection could cause serious complications.
How Is Chickenpox Treated?
Since a virus causes chickenpox, antibiotics cannot treat it. But antibiotics are needed if bacteria infect the sores. This usually happens when kids scratch and pick at the blisters. An antiviral medicine might be prescribed for people with chickenpox who are at risk for complications, but this will depend on the child’s age, health, the extent of the infection, and the timing of treatment.
Can Chickenpox Be Prevented?
The great news is that chickenpox can be prevented! Most children who get the chickenpox vaccine will not get chickenpox. And if they do get chickenpox, their symptoms will be much milder. Healthcare providers highly recommend that kids receive the vaccine when they’re 12–15 months old and a booster shot when they’re 4–6 years old. Children 6 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox and aren’t vaccinated can and should get two doses of the vaccine and kids who have had chickenpox do not need the vaccine — they usually have lifelong protection against the illness.
How Can I Help My Child Feel Better?
The best to way to help the itchiness and discomfort of chickenpox is by using a cool wet compresses or giving your child a bath in lukewarm water every 3–4 hours for the first few days. It’s worth mentioning that oatmeal bath products can help to relieve itching. Other methods of pain relief would be patting (not rubbing) the body and putting calamine lotion on itchy areas.
To prevent scratching, it’s best to use mittens or gloves on your child’s hands to avoid scratching during sleep and trim their fingernails to keep them clean.
If your child has blisters in the mouth, give cold, soft, bland foods because chickenpox in the mouth can make it hard to drink or eat. Avoid anything acidic or salty, like orange juice or pretzels.
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
Most chickenpox infections don’t need special medical treatment but, in some cases, unexpected problems can happen. You should call your healthcare provider if your child has a fever that lasts for more than 4 days, has a severe cough or trouble breathing, has an area of rash that leaks pus, has a severe headache, or lastly, has a stiff neck.
In most cases, chickenpox is not something to lose sleep over. Nearly every child gets it and even though watching your child in agony is unpleasant, this virus goes away quickly and will soon become a thing of the past. Even though there are many ways you can treat your child at home, it is still best to take your kid to their healthcare provider and the experts at Chai Care will always be here to offer their top-notch service as they supply your little one with exceptional care!
* Legal disclaimer: The content of this article and the entire Chai Care blog is for educational purposes only; it does NOT constitute medical advice and must not be considered as such. Please consult a medical professional regarding any symptoms or health concerns you or your loved ones.