Chicken Pox is a common childhood infection caused by virus called varicella zoster. It is common in children less than 12 years of age, but can affect individuals of age without prior immunity. It usually causes a mild infection in children, but tends to run a more severe course in adults and adolescents.
It most commonly presents with a reddish rash over the body, sparing the palms and sloes. It usually starts from the forehead and gradually spreads downwards. The characteristic feature of this rash is that it undergoes many stages such that on examination one will find rashes in different stages of development. Initially these rashes appear as reddish raised patches which become fluid filled in the next 2-3 days. The fluid in these rashes is like serum. These fluid filled rashes may become infected when they are called as pustules. Finally these rashes form scabs and fall off form the body.
2-3 days prior to the rash the child may exhibit runny nose and cough. The child may also develop low grade fever associated with lethargy and poor feeding. The child is infectious from 2-3 days prior to the rashes and is infectious till the rashes form scabs. The rashes of chicken pox can also be seen inside the mouth.
Chicken pox usually follows a mild course in children. Children generally recover by 7-10 days. However in adults and older children, chicken pox may be much severe. In some people Chicken Pox may be associated with pneumonia or meningitis.
Treatment for chicken pox is supportive and antiviral are also used. The commonest antiviral used in chicken pox is Acyclovir. It is usually administered orally 5 times a day. Fever can be controlled with drugs like paracetamol or brufen. Aspirin should be strictly avoided in children for fear of causing a serious brain disorder called Reye’s syndrome. Itching and burning can be relieved to some extent by calamine. Calamine should not be used on the face, especially around the eyes. Also ensure to bathe the child every day. It is also advisable to give cold, bland food to the child as the rashes inside the mouth may cause difficulty swallowing.
Since chicken pox is highly contagious, the only method to prevent it lies in immunising all people susceptible to this disease. So all children should be vaccinated against chicken pox, but it is not covered under the universal immunisation schedule as this disease is a very mild disease in childhood.
Chicken pox in pregnancy is associated with many problems. Infection early in pregnancy within the first 3 months of pregnancy results in congenital anomalies and birth defects. It can also cause premature delivery and abortions. Herein lies another important reason to immunise all children.
The vaccine for chicken pox should be administered to children at 12-15 months of age with a further booster at 6 years.
The virus of chicken pox can remain latent in the nerve cells of the body and during periods of reduced immunity, may lead to shingles-a painful eruption over any part of the body.
Chicken pox is usually a mild disease that will resolve spontaneously. However the child will need to be observed closely. It is also important to immunise all children by 3 years of age so that they remain protected against this disease.