Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella virus. Chickenpox is still a common infection with most cases occurring in children up to age 10. While Chickenpox may be a mild illness in most children, some children and adults can have serious complications.
Chickenpox is very contagious and a person can catch it by coming into contact with someone who has it or by breathing the air when an infected person coughs or speaks. A person infected with the Chickenpox virus is contagious from the day before the rash begins until all the blisters have scabbed over and dried up. You should always keep a child with Chickenpox home from school or daycare and away from persons who have not had Chickenpox. You should also avoid contact with pregnant women as it can harm the fetus.
Chickenpox infection usually starts as a rash on the chest and rapidly spreads to the rest of the body. The rash tends to begin on covered areas of the body and appears to be little red bumps. The little red bumps then turn into fluid filled blisters. The blisters will crust over and fall off in about one to two weeks.
Since some children get as many as 300-500 blisters per infection, the child may have blisters, bumps and scabs at the same time. Since the rash usually itches badly, cool soda baths may help. To make a soda bath, add a half a cup of baking soda into a tub of tepid water. Some claim oatmeal baths do the same and offer similar relief. Scarring can occur if scabs are scratched off and children should be encouraged not to pick at them.
Your doctor might be able to recommend other medications if itching becomes severe. It is also important to keep your child’s fingernails short and hands clean to avoid the rash from becoming infected. Your child may also have a slight fever.
You want to give your child plenty of water to drink to avoid dehydration. The average duration of the illness is about 7 days and may produce a headache in your child. If your child develops a bad cough, stiff neck, high fever or any of the blisters become infected, you should call your health care provider immediately.
Most people gain immunity from chickenpox after contracting once. Usually in 90% cases it gives lifelong immunity. The rest of the 10% get the chickenpox more than once due to a weak immune system.
The virus may remain inactive in nerve cells lifelong causing Shingles. Shingles, a skin rash with painful symptoms, may occur several decades later due to reactivation of the chickenpox virus from a latent state within a person’s body.