Though chickenpox is commonly regarded as a rite of passage for most
children, there are some dangers we need to be aware of.
CHICKENPOX is regarded as a rite of passage for every child, but did you know
that it can cause serious complications and make you susceptible to secondary
infections later as an adult ?
Red rashes start popping up all over your child’s body. Within several days,
these pimple-like bumps turn into liquid-filled blisters. Your child develops a
fever, loses his appetite and becomes increasingly irritable. He is quarantined
at home and misses his lessons at preschool.
The doctor cautions you to make sure your child does not scratch the rash ( no
matter how horribly itchy it gets ) as scratching can cause a bacterial infection
of the skin.
In fact, the doctor surprises you when he mentions the possibility of other
serious complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis ( inflammation of the
You have always considered chickenpox to be a very mild, common infection.
After all, everyone gets infected at least once in a lifetime and they all
recover fully, do they not?
To make matters worse, these symptoms start appearing on your younger child
too. You have no choice but to take leave from work to care for them. It is very
stressful to have two sick children under your care, especially when you are now
three months into your pregnancy.
Chickenpox is an infection caused by
the varicella-zoster virus. The varicella-zoster virus is extremely contagious
and can spread through physical contact or through the air from a sneeze or
An infected child is capable of spreading the virus two days before the
rashes appear, up to the time when all blisters have dried up.
As long as your child is healthy, the chickenpox infection will be mild and
should clear up in about two weeks. However, chickenpox can be dangerous in
children who have impaired immune systems, eczema or those who are taking
steroid medications ( for example, asthmatic children ).
Prevent your infected child from spreading the disease by keeping him at home
and out of preschool.
Unfortunately, it is trickier to prevent other members in the family from
getting infected. The risk is very high because of close contact. Try to keep
him away from pregnant women and anyone who has not had chickenpox or been
Treating chickenpox entails preventing scratching and secondary infections,
ensuring adequate fluids and nutrients, and monitoring for serious
An antiviral agent called acyclovir will reduce the severity but it needs to
be given in the early stages of the disease.
Life after chickenpox
After a chickenpox infection, the
varicella-zoster virus remains dormant in your child’s body. The virus can be
reactivated many years later after your child grows older or if his immune
Also known as herpes zoster, shingles is a painful rash that can lead to
post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition where the skin remains painful for months
or years after the rash has cleared up.
Prevent chickenpox in your child
The only way to prevent being
infected with chickenpox is by vaccination. Produced with the weakened varicella-zoster
virus, the chickenpox vaccine is usually administered to children between the
ages of one and 12, as well as adults and teenagers who have yet to contract
While the vaccine will prevent chickenpox in most children, a small number
may still become infected. However, they will get a milder form of the
infection, with less severe symptoms and much less skin lesions.
Like all other vaccines, the chickenpox vaccine can have side effects – the
most common being redness, pain and swelling at the injection site. Talk to your
doctor to find out more about the vaccine.
Chickenpox and pregnancy
Because chickenpox can affect anyone
at any age – from young children to teenagers, adults to the elderly – the risk
of a pregnant woman coming into contact with someone with the varicella-zoster
virus is very high. This is dangerous if you have never had chickenpox before.
Danger to you
Chickenpox in adulthood can be severe
and may lead to serious complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis
( inflammation of the brain ), although these are rare. The scarring in adults
tends to be worse.
Danger to your baby
A chickenpox infection during early
pregnancy can cause birth defects, low birth rate, or limb abnormalities in the
foetus. Developing the infection a week before your delivery, or within 10 days
after delivery, may cause a life-threatening infection in your newborn baby.
Reduce the risk of infection
If you are pregnant and have never
had chickenpox, talk to your doctor about the risks to you and your baby.
Get your husband and children ( even if they are teenagers ) to get themselves
vaccinated to reduce the risk of their contracting the disease and passing it on
The chickenpox vaccine for adults consists of two doses given within an
interval of eight weeks.