What is chickenpox
Chickenpox (also known as varicella) is a very contagious disease that is caused by the varicella zoster virus. Infection typically results in a skin rash characterized by itchy, dry blisters on the back, chest, face, arms, and legs. Chickenpox is usually accompanied by a fever, lethargy, and sometimes headaches. The symptoms of chickenpox usually last about a week and subside thereafter. Chickenpox used to be very common in younger children due to the fact that transmission of the virus is easily achieved. Currently, modern vaccinations have reduced the prevalence of the disease in children.
Chickenpox is rarely fatal. However, it is typically much more severe in adults who are infected with it. Adult chickenpox is called Shingles and is considered as a late complication from a previous infection by the virus.
The treatment of chickenpox is typically achieved by suppressing symptoms using fever-reducing over the counter medication. Acetaminiphen is typically used most often. Sometimes calamine lotion can help to relieve the itchiness associated with chickenpox blisters although its use has not been clinically tested to prove its effectiveness.
WARNING! Aspirin should never be administered to those suffering from chickenpox. Aspirin use by an infected individual can cause Reye Syndrome, a disease of the brain and liver that can result in serious injury or even death.
Those who are experiencing complications with chickenpox can be treated with an intra-muscular vericella zoster immune globulin which is basically an antibody booster that helps the immune system fight the disease. Also, antiviral medication can sometimes be used.
Where did chickenpox come from
Chickenpox has been traced back to Europe in the 17th century. It was originally thought to be a milder form of smallpox by an English doctor by the name of Richard Morton. Dr. Morton coined the term “chickenpox.” There are many theories as to the origin of the name – some people may have associated the small red blisters with the appearance of chickpeas. Others say they look like the peck (or bite) marks of a feisty chicken. The actual reason for the name is unknown.
Originally an Old World disease, it was brought to the Americas in the 15th century by way of travel and trade routes across the Atlantic Ocean. Because Native American people had never been exposed to the disease, it spread rapidly.
Currently, chickenpox occurs worldwide and has been attributed to roughly 7,000 deaths.
How chickenpox is spread
Chickenpox is an airborne disease that spreads through coughing, sneezing, and contact with fluids expelled from the blisters. It is highly contagious and those infected can spread the disease even before symptoms appear. Contagiousness usually lasts until the blisters dry up, scab over, and begin falling off. This means that the disease can be spread from up to three days before symptoms appear and until 5-6 days later.
Symptoms usually appear between 10 days to 3 weeks after being exposed to the virus and the duration of the infection can last decades even though symptoms aren’t present.
Why get a chickenpox vaccination
While most adults today may have had chickenpox in their childhood, most children today who have received the recommended vaccination will not contract it. However, some will. Children who have been vaccinated yet still become infected with chickenpox usually recover faster and the symptoms are typically milder.
The chickenpox vaccination should be administered within the first 6 years of childhood. The first dose is usually given between 12-15 months of age. A follow up vaccination is usually given between the ages of 4-6 years of age.
Alternately, a “combination” vaccination called MMRV may be given to children under 12 years of age and is a one time only vaccine.
The chickenpox vaccination should not be given, or be delayed, if:
- they are allergic to the medicine or any ingredients in it
- the recipient is very sick or has a compromised immune system
- the recipient is pregnant or trying to become pregnant
- the recipient is being treated for AIDS
- the recipient has cancer
- the recipient is receiving radiation therapy for cancer
- the recipient has received a blood transfusion recently
Where to get a chickenpox vaccination
If you wish to get your child vaccinated against chickenpox, contact The Pediatric Center in Idaho Falls to schedule an appointment. Your pediatrician will advise you of the risks and benefits of the chickenpox vaccination and help you determine if it is right for your child.