1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email

Chicken Pox - A Preventable Childhood Illness

Pediatric Basics

By

Updated June 14, 2006

Chicken pox is a highly contagious illness that should become much less a part of childhood as more children are given the Varivax or chicken pox vaccine. Chicken pox is caused by the varicella zoster virus and occurs most commonly in late winter or early spring. Unvaccinated children usually develop symptoms about ten to twenty-one days after being exposed to someone with chicken pox (incubation period).

Chicken pox is spread by both direct contact with an infected person and through air borne spread of respiratory secretions. Since infected persons are contagious for 1-2 days before they even develop a rash, your child may have been exposed to someone with chicken pox without knowing. You can also get chicken pox after having direct contact with someone who has shingles or herpes zoster, a reactivation of chicken pox.

Symptoms begin with a low grade fever, loss of appetite and decreased activity. About two days later, your child will develop an itchy rash consisting of small red bumps that start on the scalp, face and trunk and then spread to the arms and legs (but may also occur in the mouth and genitalia). The bumps then become blisters with clear and then cloudy fluid, and then become open sores and finally crust over within about twenty four hours, but your child will continue to get new bumps for about four more days.

All of the chicken pox lesions should be crusted over after about six days at which time your child will no longer be contagious. It may take another one to two weeks before all of the scabs finally heal. Once your child has had chicken pox he should have lifelong immunity.

There is no effective treatment for children who develop uncomplicated chicken pox, but if your child is given the Varivax vaccine within 72 hours (and sometimes up to five days) of being exposed to someone with chicken pox, it may help prevent him from becoming infected.

The usual treatments are aimed at making your child more comfortable, and can include pain relievers, plenty of fluids, oatmeal baths, calamine lotion, and oral Benadryl for severe itchiness. Also keep your child's fingernails cut short and allow him to wear loose fitting clothing.

Treatment with acyclovir, an antiviral medication that can help to decrease the symptoms of chicken pox, should be considered for children at risk of developing a severe case of chicken pox. This includes children with pulmonary disorders, on steroid medications, or with immune system problems.

Another medication, Varicella Zoster Immune Globulin (VZIG), can be given as a preventative medication to children at high risk for developing a severe case of chicken pox as soon as they are exposed to someone with chicken pox (and within 96 hours) to help prevent them from getting infected. High risk children who are considered candidates for VZIG include those with immune system problems, pregnant women who have never had chicken pox and newborns whose mother developed chicken pox within 5 days before delivery or two days after delivery.

You should call your doctor if your child has chicken pox and the blisters become very red and tender, drain pus, if your child has high fever for more than 3-4 days or is unconsolable, has swollen and tender glands or if he is unable to drink and is becoming dehydrated.

You should keep your child out of the sun while he has chicken pox and while the lesions are healing. Being in the sun can cause your child to become overheated and sweaty, which may make him more uncomfortable and increase his itching. Also, the areas where chickpox lesions are healing are also more prone to sunburn until they have totally healed and they are more likely to permanently scar if exposed to too much direct sunlight.

Related Video
Low Fat Chicken Nuggets
Pretzel-Crusted Chicken Tenders

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.