Chicken pox is a form of viral infection. Amongst the most common diseases affecting children, chicken pox is a communicable. Till recently, everybody, except those who had had chicken pox once before, were at risk. The introduction of chicken pox vaccine a few years ago is slowly changing the scenario.
Believed to have been first described by Giovanni Filippo during the 1500s in Italy, it was only in the 1600s, that an English physician named Richard Morton gave the name chicken pox to what he thought was a milder form of smallpox. It was only in the 1700s that William Heberden an English physician proved that chicken pox was actually different from smallpox.
Why should I be aware of this?
Chicken pox is a highly infectious disease. It is contagious and those affected by it are at risk of spreading the disease even before the symptoms appear. Within a day or two of acquiring the virus, the person can until all his blisters form scabs, spread the virus. After acquiring the virus, symptoms do not appear immediately. It might take as long as 10-21 days after the exposure for someone to develop chicken pox.
There is nothing worrisome about Chicken pox, which is one of the most commonly reported childhood diseases. It is usually mild and not life-threatening to otherwise healthy children. However, infants, adults, pregnant women and persons with impaired immune systems can develop serious complications.
Most of us are infected with this disease once in our lives. However, after the first exposure to the virus, the body builds up immunity in the form of antibodies that recognize the disease and kill the virus before it can infect us again. Instances of second attacks are rare.
All about chicken pox
Chicken pox is caused by a virus called varicella zoster. Newborns and adults may experience more severe symptoms then children. The duration may vary from 10-21 days. The intensity also varies.
The virus is transmitted by air as well as through touch. It can be passed through exposure to cough or sneeze of an affected person. Chickenpox normally starts and finishes in about two weeks but people with weak immune systems or newborns can have very serious complications, if infected prenatally there is a risk of birth defects.
The symptoms for chickenpox do not appear until the infectious stage has begun.
- Within a day or two of getting the virus, pimple like eruptions appear on the body. These look like blisters and are filled with fluid. These blisters form scabs which later fall off.
- During this period itching can be very annoying but scratching these blisters can lead to infection and scarring.
- Other symptoms include slight fever, weakness, loss of appetite and mild headache.
Chicken pox is one of the most readily communicable diseases. It can be spread from person to person by direct contact with fluid from the blisters or with secretions from the respiratory tract or by handling an infected person's clothing or bedding. Airborne transmission is possible through sneezing and coughing. Susceptibility to chicken pox is universal among those not previously infected. The greatest number of cases occur in the winter and early spring.
Children usually do not develop complications. Those at increased risk for complications (generally pneumonia or bacterial infection of lesions) are *Immunocompromised persons
- Infants younger than 1 year of age, adolescents and adults
- Newborns whose mothers had chicken pox around the time of delivery
- Premature infants whose mothers have not had chicken pox.
Approximately one in every 400 persons who get chicken pox requires hospitalization. There are about 90 deaths a year from chickenpox in the United States.
The incidence of shingles increases with age. Persons with HIV infection are also at increased risk of shingles.
Vaccine for chickenpox
In 1995, the US Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine to immunize children and other susceptible individuals against chicken pox. Children vaccinated at 12 months through 12 years of age require one dose. After age 13, natural varicella is more severe, complications are more frequent, and two doses of vaccine, given four to eight weeks apart, are needed.
If a person develops chickenpox, some medication can be given to the child under the guidance of the doctor. Do not give aspirin to young children; it may cause Reye syndrome. Calamine lotion and antihistamines can help reduce itching.
- Until all the scabs fall off, the patient should be kept in a well ventilated room.
- Nails should be cut off to prevent scratching, infections and scars.
- Cotton gloves can be worn and itching can be reduced by applying talcum powder.
- Plenty of vegetable and fruit juices should be given in the beginning especially lemon juice.
- Lukewarm water bath with neem leaves added can relieve itching.
- Cook 2 cups of oatmeal in 2 liters of water for 15 minutes in a cotton bag and swish it around in a tub. The water should then be applied all over the scalds to relieve itching.
- A glass of water with baking soda in it should be sponged and let to dry. This will prevent itching and scratching.
- Cook green peas in water and wash the itching skin with this water.
- 1/2 cup of cider vinegar added to a bath of warm water relieves irritation of the skin.
- Application of Vitamin E oil has healing effect and fades the marks.
- Tea prepared from any herb like marigold, basil and chamomile to which cinnamon, lemon and honey has been added, has sedative effect and should be sipped very slowly several times a day.
- Boiled coriander and carrot should be taken once a day.
What can I do?
- Take raw fruit, vegetable juices and lemon juice in plenty.
- Keep the patient in a well-ventilated room.
- Lukewarm water baths can be given every day to relieve itching. For better results, neem leaves can be added to this water.
Dos and Don'ts
- Do not take alchol because it can cause a rare but serious illness in kids called Reye syndrome. Medicines and creams that may stop the itch can also be helpful.
- It doesn't usually happen, but patients and children should tell caregivers / parents if they are feeling very unwell. Sometimes, chickenpox leads to other, more serious illnesses.
- It is said that shingles are contagious. This is not so. You cannot catch shingles from another person. Shingles are painful blisters that result from an old chicken pox infection years before. After the chicken pox rash clears, the pox virus remains dormant in nerve roots and can re-emerge years later with painful blisters. The blisters do contain chicken pox virus which could be contagious for anyone who has not been vaccinated against chicken pox.
- Research shows that children who are undergoing steroid treatments for diseases like childhood leukemia are at increased risk of contracting a more severe form of chicken pox, which may result in death.
- Researchers have found a major decrease in the effectiveness of varicella (chicken pox) vaccine after the first year of vaccination, but the vaccine is still very effective overall.
- The effectiveness of the varicella vaccine does drop substantially from 99 percent the first year after vaccination to 84 percent two to eight years after vaccination according to a study done by scientists in the Department of Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine. Eight years after vaccination, the overall effectiveness is 87 percent, which is still excellent.
- The University of Iowa Research Foundation has been issued a patent for the first-known mutant chicken pox virus. The patent will help in making an improved test which will detect all currently known forms of chicken pox -- the mutant form and the most commonly known form. 
More on Chicken pox
What can I do to help
- History of Chickenpox