Encyclopedia of Family Health - Vol. 3

By David B. Jacoby; Robert M. Youngson | Go to book overview

Chicken pox

Questions and Answers

What is the best way to prevent
scars forming from chicken pox?
Both my older children scratched
their spots, and it would be a
shame if my daughter were to
scar her face when she gets it.

Scarring occurs if the spots become
infected or if the scabs are pulled
off, taking fresh tissue with them
and widening the area of damage.
Preventing itching with calamine
lotion or an antihistamine drug is
helpful, but it does take willpower
not to scratch. All you can do is
explain what will happen if she
picks the spots, and encourage her
to resist the temptation.

Could my baby daughter get
chicken pox, and if so, is it more
serious than in an older child?

Babies seem to have some natural
immunity to chicken pox, and few
cases have ever been recorded.
A baby could be seriously, but
probably not fatally, ill with
chicken pox—but any child under
the age of two who develops a
rash should be seen by a doctor.

My brother appears to have
chicken pox for the second time.
Is this possible?

It is unlikely. In general, chicken
pox is a one-time-only infection.
The first “attack” might have been
scabies (severe itching and spots
caused by a mite) or several gnat
bites occurring together.

My daughter recently spent the
day with a child who now has
chicken pox. How soon will she
come down with it?

Your daughter may show the first
symptoms—headache and a vague
illness—within 10 days, or it could
take up to three weeks to develop.
But she may not develop chicken
pox at all—there is no certainty
that she was infected.

Children catch chicken pox so easily that it is almost a natural hazard of
childhood. Fortunately, the illness does not last long and rarely has serious
complications, so effective home nursing is a simple matter
.

Chicken pox—the medical name is varicella—is a highly infectious illness, easily recognized by the rash that it causes (see Rashes). It is generally considered a childhood illness. Babies are born with a natural ability (passed on by their mothers) to resist chicken pox, but this wears off by the time children are three or four years of age, leaving them vulnerable to infection.

The virus (germ) that causes chicken pox also causes shingles (which has similar symptoms, including a rash) in adults, so an adult with shingles can pass chicken pox on to a child. The virus is so infectious that many outbreaks of chicken pox occur, mainly in children between the ages of two and six. Outbreaks are strongest in the autumn and winter and appear to occur in threeor four-year cycles as the number of children who have never had the disease builds up.

Although slightly similar in appearance to smallpox, chicken pox has nothing else in common with the disease. Smallpox is much more serious, with a 40 percent death rate, and is caused by a completely different virus. It was eradicated more than 20 years ago (see Smallpox).


How it is caught

Although the chicken pox virus is present and alive in the spots that form, it is transferred between people chiefly by droplet infection. Someone who already has the virus spreads clusters of it in the tiny droplets of water that are exhaled with every breath. When a child breathes in an infected droplet, the virus starts to multiply, and another case of chicken pox begins. The source is almost always another child. The illness is usually passed on before the skin spots appear, so the affected child is not suspected as a source—hence the rapid spread.


Symptoms

Once the virus enters the body, it needs an incubation, or breeding, period of between 10 days and three weeks to spread. The first a child will know of his or her illness will be a 24-hour period when there will be symptoms of a vague headache, a sick feeling, occasional slight fever, and sometimes a blotchy, red rash that fades. A parent may note that the child is pale. Within 24 hours the first spots appear, and the nature and position of these spots allow a diagnosis to be made. In very mild cases it can be difficult to distinguish chicken pox from gnat bites, but in a full-blown case, with hundreds of spots, the diagnosis is simple.

Spots first appear in the mouth and throat, where they quickly burst, causing pain and soreness. They then appear on the trunk and face, only occasionally affecting the limbs. Each spot starts as a pink pimple, and within five or six hours becomes raised to form a tiny blister, or vesicle, containing clear fluid that is full of the virus. These teardrop spots gradually become milky in color, forming a crust and finally a scab. The time from the appearance of the teardrop to the formation of the crust is about 24 hours. During this period the child may be agitated and uncomfortable, and run a temperature of 100° or 101°F (38°C).

Some children have only a few spots, while others may have several hundred. As soon as crusts form, the spots begin to itch, and this stage may last until the scabs drop off, leaving

The chicken pox virus, enlarged about
8,000 times, is mainly transmitted
through droplets of water in the breath
.

-349-

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Encyclopedia of Family Health - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Bronchitis 294
  • Brucellosis 297
  • Bruises 298
  • Bunions 299
  • Burn Center 301
  • Burns 303
  • Burping 306
  • Bursitis 307
  • Calcium 310
  • Cancer 312
  • Capillaries 318
  • Cardiac Massage 320
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 322
  • Cartilage 324
  • Cataracts 326
  • Celiac Disease 329
  • Cells and Chromosomes 330
  • Cellular Telephones 333
  • Cerebral Palsy 335
  • Cervix and Cervical Smears 337
  • Cesarean Birth 340
  • Chat Room 343
  • Chelation Therapy 345
  • Chest 347
  • Chicken Pox 349
  • Child Abuse 351
  • Child Development 354
  • Chinese Medicine 358
  • Chiropractic 362
  • Cholera 365
  • Cholesterol 366
  • Chorionic Villus Sampling 367
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 369
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 370
  • Circulatory System 372
  • Circumcision 374
  • Cirrhosis 375
  • Cleft Palate 376
  • Cloning 377
  • Clubfoot 379
  • Cocaine and Crack 380
  • Cold Sores 382
  • Colon and Colitis 383
  • Colonic Irrigation 384
  • Colonoscopy 386
  • Color Blindness 388
  • Color Therapy 390
  • Colostomy 392
  • Coma 394
  • Common Cold 396
  • Complexes and Compulsions 397
  • Conception 399
  • Congenital Disorders 401
  • Conjunctivitis 403
  • Constipation 404
  • Contact Lenses 406
  • Contraception 407
  • Convalescence 412
  • Convulsions 413
  • Coordination 414
  • Cornea 416
  • Corns 417
  • Coronary Arteries and Thrombosis 419
  • Cosmetics 422
  • Cosmetic Surgery 424
  • Coughing 426
  • Cough Syrup 427
  • Counseling 428
  • Index 431
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