Chickenpox is a common infection in childhood caused by the Varicella-Zoster virus.
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?
Children with chicken pox will feel flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, mild headache, fever up to 39° C (102° F), chills and muscle or joint aches a day or two before the itchy, red rash appears. The rash starts with red spots that turn into fluid filled blisters and will continue to erupt for 2-3 days after the first spots developed. These blisters will crust over and dry.
How is chickenpox spread?
The virus spreads very easily through the air or by direct contact with the fluid in the blisters. Chicken pox is infectious from 2 days before the rash develops until the blisters have all crusted or 5 days from when the rash first appeared. The most common way the infection is spread is through the air if someone with chicken pox coughs or sneezes. You can also get chicken pox if you touch a blister or the liquid from a blister.
A pregnant woman with chicken pox can pass it on to her unborn baby before birth. Mothers with chicken pox can also give it to their newborn baby after birth.
Complications from chickenpox
In about 5 to 10 per cent of healthy children, chicken pox infection can lead to more serious problems such as:
- Bacterial skin infections and/or necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease)
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
- Encephalitis (infection of the brain)
- Infection of other sites (e.g., blood)
- Birth defects may occur if the baby gets chicken pox from their mothers before they are born.
In Ontario, infants are routinely immunized with the Varicella vaccine around 15 months of age, with a second dose at 4-6 years. Susceptible, unimmunized children aged 5 years or those with certain high-risk conditions are also eligible for the vaccine free of charge.
What are shingles?
Shingles (or "Zoster") is caused by the same virus that causes Chickenpox. A rash develops but is usually contained to one part of the body and is very contagious. It is possible for a susceptible person to catch chickenpox from a person with shingles but not possible to catch Shingles from someone with Chicken pox.
More to know
Keep a child with chickenpox out of school or child care only if the illness is severe enough that the child cannot participate in regular activities or if a fever is present.
Watch for signs and symptoms of chickenpox 2-3 weeks after exposure to another person with the virus.
Seek medical attention if your child has a fever higher than 39C (102F) and lasts longer than 48 hours, if fever disappears then reoccurs, if any spots appear infected or enlarged, if your child seems very ill, or if your child has an immune system disorder.
It is important to never give a child with chickenpox Aspirin (Acetylsalicylic Acid ASA) products. A serious condition called Reye's Syndrome could develop. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra, Panadol and others) may be given to help to control fever.
Pregnant women can develop severe chickenpox that may affect the unborn child. If you are pregnant, do not have a history of having had chickenpox and have been exposed, contact your physician right away. It may be possible for you to receive an immune globulin (VZIG) injection to help prevent you from getting a severe infection.
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