CHICKENPOX: AVOID CONTACT OR GET VACCINATED
Chickenpox is a disease that may have affected you while you were a child. However the disease affects not only kids but adults as well. Chickenpox is mild in children but serious when it catches you as an adult. Your chances of catching chickenpox are very high during an epidemic: if you have not been affected by the disease in the past; or if you did not receive vaccination against it. In this post you will know what causes chickenpox, its symptoms and how to protect yourself from it. Read on:
It is an infection caused by a virus known as Varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The disease is highly infectious: meaning that if ten people visit you while you are suffering from chickenpox nine of them may catch it. Of course this happens only if all of the ten people have no immunity against the disease. You develop immunity against chickenpox through suffering from it or taking the vaccine. Your chances of getting infected are increased during late winter and early spring.
Your children between the ages of 5 and 9 years are the ones mostly affected by chickenpox. It also affects children in other age groups but not as common as 5 – 9 years old.
Symptoms and Signs
Common symptoms of chickenpox include skin rashes, fever and body weakness. However complications may arise leading to serious illness. You may suffer serious complications of chickenpox if you belong to the following groups:
- If you are an adult;
- You are a pregnant woman or;
- Your immune system is weak such as if you have HIV disease, diabetes mellitus poor nutrition or cancer.
How Chickenpox is Spread to Others
The virus that causes chicken pox may stay in your body for up to 21 days before you start having symptoms. But you may start spreading the virus to others from 2 days before the rashes appear until all have disappeared. You spread the virus to people who have come close to you. Sneezing, cough, talking or shaking hands help to spread the disease. The virus is present in the fluid inside your nose and throat. Cough or sneeze usually throws a shower of the fluid into the air contaminating the air others breathe. Sometimes you may touch your nose and shake hands with others leading to transfer of the virus.
Chickenpox produces rashes on the skin on all parts of your body. The rashes may also occur in your mouth and throat or inside the vagina. You may have intense itching from the rashes. Too much scratching of the rashes could lead to infection of the rashes by bacteria. This may appear as creamy discharge from the rashes.
Complications of Chickenpox
As described above rashes of chickenpox may get complicated with bacteria leading to creamy discharge.
Also the virus may infect your lungs to cause a disease (pneumonitis) which makes your breathing difficult. This happens mostly if you are a smoker of cigarette.
Chickenpox may also damage your pregnancy leading to abnormality in the eyes, brain, hands and legs of the baby.
Your liver or brain may also be affected by chickenpox virus.
Treatment of Chickenpox
Chickenpox treatment involves the following:
Antiviral drugs are medicines that attack the virus causing the disease. However antiviral treatment is given to you only within 2 days of appearance of rashes. You may not benefit from the treatment if your rashes are more than 2 days old.
But if you are a pregnant woman the treatment is given even if the rashes are old. And also if you have a weak immune system treatment will be given without consideration to the rashes.
Good body hygiene prevents bacterial complication of the rashes. You will need to have a bath daily and clip your finger nails.
You can apply some type of medicated lotion on your skin to reduce itching of the rashes. Take lots of water and paracetamol to treat fever.
You may need an antibiotic medicine only if the rashes are infected by bacteria and are discharging creamy liquid.
Prevention of Chickenpox
Three options are there for prevention of chicken pox:
Get vaccinated against chickenpox
make sure all your children are vaccinated. All your children above 1 year of age up to 12 years who have not had chickenpox in the past should be vaccinated. The vaccine is given twice: first dose given at 12 to 15 month of age; second dose at 4 to 6 years of age.
You can also get vaccinated if you are above 13 years of age. However this is done only if you have not received the vaccination or suffered the disease in the past. Here the first dose of the vaccine is given and the second after one month.
Varicella-zoster immune globulin (VZIG)
is a special type of injection. It contains chemicals that attack the chickenpox virus specifically. It is given to you if you have been exposed to chickenpox and you have not had the disease in the past. Exposure to chicken pox means:
- When someone in your household is suffering from chicken pox;
- If your child plays in a closed room with a child suffering from chickenpox;
- When you live in the same hospital room with a chicken pox patient; all of these equal to close contact with the disease.
VZIG is also given to you if you have high chance of developing complications. For example a pregnant woman who has not had the disease in the past.
Also the injection (VZIG) is given to you within 4 days after contact with chickenpox patient.
drugs are your option if you spent more than 4 days after contact with the patient. The drugs are also the option if you are not eligible for vaccination.
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Walker, B. R., Colledge, N. R., Ralston, S. H. & Penman, I. D. (eds)(2014) Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier. London
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