Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Despite the incidence of chickenpox declining significantly since the development of the chickenpox vaccine, there are still children who develop chickenpox every year. And while it's true that the disease is usually mild in most children, it can be serious in some kids, teens, and adults.
The virus spreads easily through droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneezes. It can also spread by touching the fluid from chickenpox blisters. A person with chickenpox is contagious from one to two days before any symptoms appear and after that, it usually takes between 10 to 21 days to develop chickenpox. They remain contagious throughout the period they have chickenpox.
For most healthy children, chickenpox is more of a nuisance than a danger.
The most common symptoms of chickenpox include:
- Fatigue and irritability
- Itchy, red rash that progresses to tiny, fluid-filled blisters
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Cough or runny nose
"A person with chickenpox is contagious from one to two days before any symptoms appear and after that, it usually takes between 10 to 21 days to develop chickenpox. They remain contagious throughout the period they have chickenpox."
Chickenpox can actually be prevented by immunisation. The varicella-zoster vaccine has been available in Malaysia since 1997. However, it is only available in the private sector as it is currently not part of the government’s immunisation programme.
The vaccine is reported to be more than 95% effective in preventing moderate to severe forms of the infection. In rare and specific cases, vaccinated people can still get chickenpox, but they experience a milder form of the illness, with fewer blisters and symptoms.
"Chickenpox can actually be prevented by immunisation. The varicella-zoster vaccine has been available in Malaysia since 1997."
So, what happens when your child gets chickenpox and how do you care for him/her?
- Keep your child at home and limit their exposure to other people until all the chickenpox blisters have formed scabs with no new blisters are forming. It usually takes about a week for the blisters to become scabs.
- Make sure to bathe your child with soap and lukewarm (not hot) water. After bathing, apply calamine lotion or petroleum jelly or any other fragrance-free, anti-itch lotion.
- Trim your child’s fingernails as it helps prevent skin infections which is caused by scratching the blisters. For younger children, put socks or mittens over their hands to prevent scratching.
- For the fever, take paracetamol and drink plenty of fluids.
When to see a doctor
For most healthy children, chickenpox clears on its own without treatment. But in some cases, chickenpox can lead to serious complications like dehydration, pneumonia, bleeding problems, and other issues. Do consider consulting a doctor when:
- You have a newborn with chickenpox or if your child has a weakened immune system.
- Your child has trouble breathing or if any of the blisters become infected (the rash becomes extremely red, tender, and warm).
- Your child has a high fever (above 38.9°C) or if the fever lasts for more than four days.
Most of us who had chickenpox in our youth will likely be immune to the disease for the rest of our lives. However, it is important to note that the virus does remain dormant in our nerve tissues and may reactivate, resulting in herpes zoster (shingles) later in life.
Rarely, does a secondary case of chickenpox occur, but blood tests can confirm immunity to chickenpox in people who are unsure if they have had the disease.
While severe cases are often rare, chickenpox is among one of the diseases many parents are concerned with. We understand that as parents, your child’s wellbeing is always the top priority and you’re constantly looking for the best way to protect your little one.
AIA’s A-Life Joy Xtra is a holistic solution that comes with a wide range of additional protection plans tailored to meet your child’s different needs.
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At the end of the day, as your child grows up, your role and responsibility grow as well. Just as they learn and discover new things along the way to adulthood, you as a parent will also learn and discover new things along the different stages of parenthood. All the best and good luck on your parenting journey!