Month: June 2008

Everything You Need to Know About Chicken Pox

Have you ever had the dreaded Chicken Pox? If so, you may remember the awful itching and red sores very clearly. Or, if you’re one of the lucky ones and contracted chicken pox when you were very young (or have never had the virus), you may have no memory at all! Regardless of whether you’ve had the chicken pox or not, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease as well as treatment options. That way when your kids or grandkids come down with the pox, you’ll know exactly what to do! Keep reading for everything you need to know about chicken pox.

I will never forget my bout with chicken pox – but not for the reasons you might think. No, I wasn’t hospitalized or in extreme pain or discomfort or anything like that. I wasn’t even that itchy. But having the chicken pox caused me to miss my elementary school Valentine’s trip to the roller-skating rink and that, my friends, has scarred me for life.

Well, maybe not scarred. But it really upset me at the time.

Chicken pox is caused by a virus (varicella-zoster) which is spread very easily.  The virus is contained in the mucus of infected people; as such, it can be spread when they cough or sneeze.  Those who are infected should not share food or beverages, as the virus can also be contracted that way as well.  Direct contact with open sores from the illness can also cause the spread of the disease.  The virus has an incubation period of 10 to 21 days.  During this time a person carries the virus, but is unaware.  Unfortunately, chicken pox is most contagious in the few days before symptoms appear; therefore it is difficult to avoid the illness entirely.

Symptoms and Progression
The initial symptoms of chicken pox mirror other viruses, including the common cold.  These symptoms include headache, fever, sore throat, and possibly decreased appetite.  While these symptoms are common, they are not always present and the first sign may in fact be the rash that develops (normally within one or two days of the early symptoms).

The rash starts as a simple red spot.  It spreads out slightly, causing an irregular outline, and then a “blister” forms on the spot.  Over the course of several hours, the fluid becomes cloudy, and then the blister breaks and a scab forms.  This cycle from spot to scab generally takes 24 to 48 hours.  Spots usually appear daily for up to a week.  A person with chicken pox is contagious until all sores have scabbed over and no new spots appear.

The best prevention against chicken pox is actually having a case of it.  Once a person has chicken pox, they are unlikely to be re-infected.  With this in mind, an immunization has been developed and is being used with great success.  However, many people feel that the immunization is less effective than exposure to the virus.  It is wise for adult women who have never had the virus to obtain the protection though, since chicken pox is most dangerous for pregnant women and can cause permanent harm to the developing baby.

As chicken pox is viral in nature, antibiotics are not necessary.  The disease simply needs to run its course, and treatment generally consists of comfort measures.  As the sores can become infected, it is wise to keep them clean and to prevent the infected person from itching them.   Oatmeal baths can help reduce the itchiness of the rash, as can application of cool compresses.  Fever reduction methods should only be used under the advice of a physician in specific cases of dangerously high fevers.  Otherwise, the fever should also be allowed to run its course as it is simply a sign that the patient’s body is fighting the virus.

While it can be uncomfortable, chicken pox is generally a mild illness.  If proper care is given at home, the illness has no lasting effects and the patient should be able to go back to school or work in a very short amount of time.

So, now you know! If you’ve had the chicken pox, the hard part is over! And if you haven’t, at least you know how to protect yourself, or in the event that you or your loved ones do contract it, how to treat it – or at least ease some of the symptoms.