What You Need to Know About Chickenpox
Many children get chickenpox and in most cases, the disease is not dangerous. It may even be good if they contract the disease so their body develops antibodies to fight the virus that causes it. This can strengthen their immune system and keep them healthier.
Understanding how chickenpox develops and its symptoms is important so that you can protect others in the house and care for your child properly when he or she is sick. Even though the disease is not dangerous, they still need proper care for their comfort and to ensure that it heals in good time.
Cause and Symptoms
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, a member of the herpes virus family. Someone with chickenpox does not have genital herpes; these conditions are caused by a similar type of virus but they are different in their results. This virus that causes chickenpox in children is the same as the virus that causes shingles, a painful skin irritation, in adults.
A child will develop chickenpox after contracting the virus, either through human contact or by touching surfaces where the virus is present. It’s not unusual for schools or daycare centers to report cases of chickenpox at the same time as the virus passes from one child to the next.
The red, itchy, fluid-filled blisters that develop on a child’s face or hands or other parts of the body are the symptoms of chickenpox. They typically first appear on the face or scalp and then spread from there. After a few days the blisters will appear cloudy and form a scab. These are unlike other rashes in that they burst easily and there are typically hundreds of small blisters that make up the chickenpox splotches.
Children often have other symptoms before the blisters appear. They will appear sick with a fever, headache, stomach ache, and a loss of appetite for typically one or two days before the blisters appear. These symptoms may continue for another two to four days after the blisters form.
The biggest risk factors from chickenpox include scars from intense scratching of the blisters, and spreading the virus to others. The herpes family of viruses is spread very easily; they can contract it from physical contact as well as from touch fluids of the blisters, or from moisture droplets from someone with the virus coughing or sneezing near you.
Typically chickenpox will occur in pre-teen children because their immune systems are not strong enough to fight the virus. Adults and older children who contract the virus may have more intense symptoms than children. Those with compromised immune systems such as those with HIV or those undergoing chemotherapy may be more prone to get chickenpox than others.
In most cases it’s best to simply let the virus run its course while the body builds antibodies to fight it. Addressing the child’s symptoms is also important; cool cloths will bring down their fever and keep them comfortable. If they are vomiting, protein shakes will keep them nourished. Water, juice, and children’s drink’s with electrolytes will keep them hydrated. Soup, broth, and fruit are easier for them to digest when they’re stomach is upset, so try these if they have a problem keeping other foods down.
Cortisone cream can help with itching. Never use regular hand cream as this will contain ingredients that are actually irritating to the blisters. Petroleum jelly may be used to calm the itch as well, and to provide a barrier between the blisters and the environment.
If the chickenpox blisters do not seem to clear up within a week, it’s best to take the child to the doctor. He or she can examine them and determine if they truly are chickenpox and if the child needs medication to help fight the virus.