It may be called chickenpox, but the illness is anything but trivial. While rarely fatal, chickenpox can cause a child many days of misery. The virus has even been known to cause medical complications.
59 per cent — or about six in every to cases — of chicken-pox occur by the age of 14. Also known as Varicella, chickenpox is caused by a virus. It usually starts with a skin rash that appears mainly on the head and body. Spread through coughs, sneezes or direct contact with secretions from the rash, the illness is likely to give lifelong immunity once contracted.
There’s good news, though. There is a vaccine and if every child gets it, chickenpox could go the way of the dinosaurs. Vaccination is safe and widely available. The vaccine against chickenpox is safe, so it is better to be vaccinated than wait to be infected and become unwell. While not common, chickenpox has been known to cause complications that affect the nervous system.
The illness also becomes more serious as one grows older. The vaccine does not give 100 per cent protection but, of the two per cent who still acquire the disease, the outcome consists of fewer than 50 blisters, which is a considerably smaller number than in an unvaccinated child. In addition, vaccination against chicken-pox has also been found to reduce the risk of shingles in children, according to a study published in the December 2009, issue of the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Journal . Only 122 cases of shingles, also known as herpes zoster, were reported among the 172,163 vaccinated children in the study, which is a lower rate compared to what is expected in unvaccinated children.
The itch has started
What can be done if symptoms start to appear? If the patient seeks treatment early, they can receive an anti-viral drug known as Acyclovir which can lessen the severity of the illness and shorten its duration. Home remedies, such as an oatmeal bath and applying calamine lotion to soothe the itch, have also proven effective. The patient should also keep the skin clean to prevent infections.
Chickenpox gets more dangerous with age. As a person grows older, the complication risk increases exponentially. It may affect specific organs such as the lungs, or the liver and pancreas. It can also affect the central nervous system and the brain. Although fatalities from chickenpox are rare, those who have not contracted it should seriously consider vaccination. The vaccine is a live virus, and immunity is likely lifelong.
Adults require two doses to be taken six months apart to be effectively vaccinated against chickenpox. Herpes zoster is a very localised form of chickenpox infection. It is caused by the same virus that afflicts an individual when he or she was younger. This virus then resides in the body and reappears in a localised area during times of stress, or when the immune system is weaker. This disease is often accompanied by intense, sometimes unbearable, pain. As the blisters carry the virus, this can be infectious too. Though rare, herpes zoster that affects the eye or ear can cause blindness or nerve palsies.