1. Chickenpox is caused by a virus, called the Varicella Herpes Zoster virus. It is a highly contagious disease that most children contract at some age, usually around spring or winter. Chickenpox is most common between the ages of 2 and 8, and usually affects a number of children around the same time. For most children chickenpox is more of a nuisance than an actual threat. However, a small number of cases have seen serious and life-threatening effects. Symptoms such as swollen red skin around the blisters and a high fever a few days into the infection are signs that all is not well. You should consult your doctor immediately in this case, as complications include encephalitis, pneumonia and bacterial skin infection. Children with a lowered immune system are more susceptible to catching the virus, and are also more at risk of developing serious complications.
2. The chickenpox rash first appears as lots of little red bumps .This eruption occurs anywhere on the body, although it often starts on the face, scalp or trunk before spreading. The bumps then change into clear, fluid-filled blisters on a pink base. These blisters then burst and scab over to become dry brown crusts. Keep your child home from day care or crèche until all the sores have crusted over, to prevent spreading the disease to other children. While your child is recuperating, the best thing to do is to help relieve the itching. Apply calamine lotion to the blisters to relieve itching, or give your child an oral antihistamine. Use children's paracetamol to control the fever. Do not use aspirin as it can trigger Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal condition. Chickenpox usually lasts about seven to ten days, with initial symptoms being a slight fever, loss of appetite, a runny nose and a mild cough a few days before the rash appears.
3. Chickenpox spreads in tiny droplets of saliva and mucus coughed out by an infected person. Humans are the only reservoir of infection, which is transmitted from person to person by direct contact and, to a lesser extent, through droplet spread. People who have caught the chickenpox virus are infectious for a day or two before, and for about five days after, the onset of the rash. It takes 10 to 21 days for the rash to appear after coming in to contact with the virus.
4. Once you've had chickenpox, you develop a lifelong immunity to it. It's rare to catch chickenpox again, although the virus lies dormant in your nervous system and can cause shingles later on in life. Shingles appears as a rash on one side of the body and even in the mouth. The rash develops in a similar way to chickenpox and leaves people feeling quite unwell. Symptoms include a temperature, dry cough and a sore throat.
5. A vaccine is available for children over 9 months of age. It is administered as an injection in the upper arm, and can be given together with other vaccines. The vaccine is generally safe with few adverse side effects. Possible side effects include pain or swelling around the injection site, mild fever or, in very few cases, a generalised mild chickenpox-like rash. One dose of the vaccine is recommended for children under 12 years of age. Pregnant women who catch chickenpox should consult their doctor immediately to receive antiviral medication.