Chicken pox, or varicella in medical parlance, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The varicella-zoster virus causes three types of infections—primary, latent, and recurrent. The primary infection is manifested as chicken pox. Humans are the only source of infection and the disease is very contagious. The illness usually begins 10 to 21 days after being exposed to someone with chicken pox.
Initially your child may develop fever, malaise, and headache which usually disappear 2 to 4 days after the appearance of the rash. The scalp, face, or trunk is the usual place where the rashes first appear. The rashes are itchy and initially appear as macules (tiny spots) which are flat reddish areas; then they become elevated into papules (tiny bumps) and evolve into clear fluid-filled vesicles. When the vesicles become crusted, several new rashes appear. There are more rashes on the trunk area but they may also be found on the hands, feet, face, and mouth. The disease is usually self-limiting but some people may develop complications such as pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), bleeding disorders, congenital infection, severe perinatal infection (e.g., around childbirth), and superinfection (new infection on top of the original infection) with staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria.
Uncomplicated cases require supportive therapy. Give your child enough fluids for proper hydration. Oral antihistamines may be given for severe itchiness. Oatmeal soaks can also be applied on the skin to lessen itchiness. Keep fingernails short to prevent secondary bacterial infection caused by scratching.
Antipyretics (fever meds) like acetaminophen (paracetamol) or ibuprofen may be given for fever but not aspirin which may cause a potentially fatal condition called Reye’s Syndrome. Your doctor can give you antiviral prescription when indicated. Chicken pox is a vaccine-preventable disease. It is routinely recommended that a child 12 months and above receive the 1st dose followed by the 2nd dose at 4 to 6 years of age.