Chickenpox is one of the most common childhood diseases. It typically causes the body to be entirely covered in blister-like rashes. In Hong Kong, chickenpox is the most reported infectious disease every year. Here is everything you need to know about chickenpox, reviewed by paediatrician Dr. Eddie Cheung.
Chickenpox or varicella is a very common viral infection which mainly occurs in children under the age of 12. It is caused by varicella-zoster virus, leading to small itchy blisters on the skin. The virus may stay dormant in the body for years before being reactivated to develop a painful rash, shingles (Herpes zoster) later in life.
Complications can also occur, such as a secondary bacterial infection at wound sites, pneumonia, Reye’s syndrome (a severe condition that causes liver and brain damage) and inflammation of the brain.
That being said, chickenpox is a generally mild disease in children. The illness itself will resolve spontaneously. Full recovery takes 2-4 weeks. Most people will develop lifelong immunity against it after the first infection.
It is important for infected children to withdraw from all social activities, including childcare centres, schools and hobby classes, until there is complete crusting of the fluid-filled spots.
Incubation period: 10-21 days, usually 14-16 days.
Infectious period: Usually 1-2 days before the rash appears until all skin lesions have dried up. This is usually about 5-7 days.
Chickenpox is highly contagious. Those who have never been infected or not received vaccines are more at risk. It can be spread through:
If you think your child has the symptoms, call a doctor first to avoid possibly spreading chickenpox at the clinic. They can then arrange an appointment for consultation, diagnosis and giving professional advice on proper management and isolation.
You should also speak to a doctor if your child
As mentioned, chickenpox typically heals itself without the need for seeking medical attention in children with a good immune system. Your child’s doctor may prescribe the following medications for symptomatic relief.
Other remedies or points to note include:
Chickenpox can be prevented through vaccination. All children in Hong Kong receive two shots of varicella vaccines under the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme, which are given when they turn 1 and then at 18 months of age.
About 90% of people will acquire immunity after vaccination. It is still possible to get the illness even with vaccination, but the symptoms are often less severe and the duration is shorter.
Your child will usually not need to get vaccinated if they have had chickenpox before, because they will have lifelong immunity protecting them from it after the first infection. Other ways to prevent contraction include:
Chickenpox normally heals in 2 weeks in a healthy child. However, there are a few things you could do to relieve your children’s symptoms, in particular, keeping their fingernails short, bathe them in warm water, ensure they wear loose soft clothing and drink abundant water.
The most effective way to prevent chickenpos is vaccination. Besides, maintaining good personal and environmental hygiene and avoiding contact with infected people largely help with the prevention of chickenpox.
According to the Department of Health, BCG should be given to all newborn babies and is highly recommended for children aged below 15 who reside in Hong Kong, but is not a requirement.
Chickenpox mostly affect children below 12, although the possibility of adults getting it cannot be completely ruled out.
Chickenpox is caused by varicella-zoster virus, which can be transmitted via droplets or air as well as contact with blister fluids.
Dr. Eddie Cheung 張蔚賢醫生 is a specialist in paediatrics. He received his paediatric training in Queen Mary Hospital and post-fellow paediatric cardiology training in Grantham Hospital/ Queen Mary Hospital. He is a Fellow of the Hong Kong College of Cardiology, the Vice President of Hong Kong Society of Paediatric Cardiology and Consultant of Hong Kong Association of Cleft Lip and Palate. He is currently working as Director of Paediatric Centre of HK Medical Consultants and serves as Infection Control Officer at the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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