by Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Ismail
Chickenpox is a common and highly contagious disease, particularly among children aged 12 years and below. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The typical symptoms include red, itchy skin rashes that eventually develop into thin-walled blisters, and general symptoms such as fever, abdominal pains, sore throat and headache.
This illness will usually run its course in about 5 to 10 days, although it takes about 10 to 21 days to develop after a person has been exposed to the virus.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease and can spread easily from person-to-person through air, saliva, or direct contact with another person with chickenpox. Thus, anticipate that your child will probably get chickenpox at some point during his childhood and that you may also get infected from him or his friends if you have not had it or had never been vaccinated.
Care for Chickenpox
Parents frequently do not pay much attention to information on chickenpox until the disease afflicts someone in the family. Questions only start to arise when they are at home worrying and caring for their sick child. So, what are the common questions about chickenpox care that you should know the answers to? Read on to find out.
The itchiness caused by the chickenpox rashes and blisters is driving my child crazy. How do I reduce this itch?
Chickenpox rashes are very itchy, so anticipate that your child will be very irritable and will attempt to scratch a lot. While you are not able to completely relieve your child of the itchiness, you can make him more comfortable. Try these methods below :
* Give your child either lukewarm or cool baths every 3 to 4 hours. If you have to, use soap that is milder than his normal one as the latter may be too harsh for his overly sensitive skin. After the bath, pat him dry instead of rubbing him to prevent breaking the blisters.
* Calamine lotion can help relieve itchy rashes. The lotion is a cooling agent that soothes by absorbing excess heat from the surface of the skin. It also has mild antiseptic properties that will prevent secondary skin infections.
* Dress your child in lightweight clothing. Stay away from wool and heavy clothing as they tend to irritate the skin.
* If your child suffers from severe itch, check with your doctor about prescribing him antihistamines. Remember to always refer back to your doctor before giving your child any medication.
What can be done to prevent scarring?
A real fear among parents when it comes to chickenpox is the scars that will form. Thus, it is very important that you prevent your child from scratching himself. Bacteria on your child's hands and under his fingernails may infect the broken skin blisters. This will cause complications like skin infections, which may eventually lead to permanent scarring.
* Keep his fingernails short so he will not run the risk of hurting his skin should he scratch.
* When he sleeps, let him wear cotton gloves or mittens. This is to prevent your child from accidentally scratching himself while he is asleep.
* Food rich in beta-carotene and vitamin-C is important for the growth and repair of skin tissues. Make sure you include plenty of carrots, spinach and cabbages (foods rich in beta-carotene) in his food as these may help heal your child's skin.
Should my child's diet be given any special consideration?
There are no food restrictions when it comes to feeding a child with chickenpox. However, your child may suffer from a loss of appetite and refuse to eat much in the first few days of chickenpox. Additionally, blisters may sometimes form in their mouths and throats, making it difficult for them to eat. The general rule on how to feed your child during this period :
* Ensure that your child gets plenty of fluids to stay well-hydrated. If your child gets tired of plain water, offer him fruit juices instead.
* It is not necessary to load your child with any specific food groups or nutrients. Keep in mind that a well-balanced diet is key to helping your child to recover from the disease.
* Offer your child foods that are soft in texture, cold and bland to make eating more comfortable. Steer away from foods that are spicy, acidic and salty as they may irritate the blisters in his mouth and throat.
How do I prevent my child from spreading chickenpox to his siblings?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that spreads easily. More often than not, one infected child can spread the disease to almost everyone he comes into contact with, especially his siblings who have not been infected before. The only way to completely halt the spread among siblings is to separate them before any sign of chickenpox rash appears and until the rashes clear up.
Moreover, ensure the healthy siblings wash their hands as often as possible, particularly before eating and after using the washroom. Caregivers must also take extra care of their hygiene when around the healthy child, particularly after they have come into contact with the infected child.
Chickenpox is considered a 'typical', but mild childhood disease. Most of the time it is mild, but seeing your child suffering such discomfort can be distressing. Additionally, there is always a chance that the disease may develop into a more severe condition. Thus, if parents want to avoid all the hassles that accompany chickenpox, there are a few things that they can do :
Mother's who already have had chickenpox will be immune to the disease and will most likely be able to pass on this immunity to her newborn baby through the antibodies in her breast milk. Thus, mother's are encouraged to breastfeed their newborns, especially in the first few months of their newborn's life.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chickenpox vaccine is the best way to prevent chickenpox, with complete protection to about 80-90% of children who are immunised. The vaccine, which contains the weakened form of the live varicella-zoster virus, may cause mild symptoms in rare cases.
By now, the new tetravalent MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella & varicella) vaccine, which combines the compulsory measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with the chickenpox vaccine, is available. Parents can now opt to give their child additional protection against chickenpox without increasing the number of injections for their child.
Talk to your doctor if you would like to explore this option.