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Food & Health

Chickenpox: Cause, Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

Remember the time you missed school because of chickenpox? Maybe you got it from a classmate, sibling, or playmate. You thought it would be fun because you get to stay at home, but the itchy red blisters could get so annoying! 

Chickenpox is one of the most common communicable diseases not only in children but also in unvaccinated adults. According to data from the Ministry of Health, there were 24,248 reported cases of chickenpox in Singapore in 2015, with children aged 5 years and below having the highest incidence rate.

Though chickenpox is very common and highly treatable, it still poses danger among immunocompromised children and even pregnant women. Read on to know more about this disease and how you can cope with it.

Causes of chickenpox

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus, from the α-herpesvirus family. One can acquire it through direct contact with an infected person or airborne transfer of respiratory droplets. Chickenpox can also be contracted through indirect contact with objects containing droplets of fluid from an infected person. 

Symptoms of chickenpox

Chickenpox is characterised by fever and skin eruption with lesions that spread throughout the body. These lesions will then burst, turn to open sores, and scab. It could be very itchy too, making it even harder to deal with, especially for kids.

According to the Ministry of Health, a person with chickenpox is contagious one to two days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. If you’ve had physical contact with a person with the virus, you may get chickenpox 10 to 21 days after.

Treatment for affected individuals

The good news about chickenpox is that it will most likely go away on its own without any treatment, usually one to two weeks after the first wave of spots appear. Antiviral medications may be prescribed to lessen the effects of the virus, ease one’s discomfort, avoid further complications, or spread to other people. Although not highly necessary for children and adults, these antiviral medications are more useful for those whose immune systems are compromised.

Aside from medicating, other ways to deal with chickenpox include:

  • Hydrating more. Drink lots of water so you won’t get dehydrated. You can also give the affected person cold drinks or slushies. For mums who bottle feed, you may need to switch to using cups or spoons instead as the bottle’s nipple may hurt your child if she has sores in the mouth as well.
  • Minimising scratching. The itchiness caused by the virus may be hard to tolerate but as much as possible, avoid scratching to prevent scarring. Consider giving cold baths or using calamine lotion to ease the itchiness. Don’t use soap though when giving a bath as some soaps may worsen the itch.
  • Giving acetaminophen or paracetamol to treat fever. However, do not give the affected person aspirin as it may worsen his or her condition.

Ways to avoid spreading the virus

While chickenpox is easily transmitted to other people, there are still ways to minimise its spread. Here are some of them:

  • Keep the infectious person away from public places. Inform your child’s school that your child has chickenpox and may have to stay at home until she’s clear from the virus. This is to prevent harming other children as well. The same goes for people who go to work: tell your supervisor that you will have to stay home to avoid infecting other people.
  • Avoid contact with pregnant women, newborns, or anyone whose immune system is weak, including those with preexisting conditions, as they are at higher risk.
  • Disinfect your house. If anyone in your family has chickenpox, it is a good idea to disinfect surfaces and objects that came in direct contact with the affected person. This can include utensils, bedding, or even towels.

Vaccination for children and adults

Vaccinating is the best way to minimise your chance of getting chickenpox. While the vaccine does not guarantee complete prevention of the disease, it will help lessen the severity of it once contracted. In Singapore, the vaccine against chickenpox is not mandatory for children. For parents who want to protect their child early on, you may opt to have them vaccinated with two doses.

Raffles Children Centre advises that the first dose be taken after the child turns one year old and the second dose six weeks after. It can also be combined with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is part of Singapore’s National Childhood Immunisation Schedule, to lessen the number of injections.

However for adults, the vaccine against varicella is included in Singapore’s National Adult Immunisation schedule for aged 18 to 65 years and above. It is highly recommended for those who are unvaccinated and have never had the virus to take two doses of the vaccine.

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