Just last week, a 4-year-old boy in a Sub-county Hospital in Mombasa came in with chicken-pox symptoms. The Mother explained to me that there has been an outbreak of Chickenpox in their neighborhood and was just worried about her son, prompting her to seek consultation. The Ministry of Health had indeed confirmed that there is an outbreak of Chickenpox in Mombasa and Nairobi counties in Kenya.
Speaking on phone to Daily Nation, Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko said that Chickenpox outbreaks happens a lot during holidays and they pick up cases through enhanced awareness among the public. He also explained that chickenpox is a self-limiting disease in which a patient can recover without getting healthcare. Although the Ministry says the outbreak is not a cause for alarm, the director advised the public to limit contact with those infected so as to minimize its spread. About 1200 cases have been reported, with majority of patients being young children.
What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a common, contagious illness mainly affecting Children below 12 years of age caused by Varicella-Zoster virus (VZV). Most children will catch Chickenpox at some point, but it can also occur in adults who didn’t get infected in their childhood.
How do you get infected?
Chickenpox is an airborne disease spread easily when the virus is released in the air from a cough or sneeze of an infected person. It may also be spread through contact with the blisters. If you have had it before, you are usually immune for life.
An infected person is contagious from 1-2 days before onset of the rash until all the blisters have dried out and crusted over (4-5 days). Infected children should not go to school during this period and the parents should notify the teachers or your community health worker so that other kids who might have been in contact and hadn’t been immunized to do so and those who have contacted the disease to be treated.
Signs and Symptoms
Chickenpox presents itself with a rash or oral sores, but this can be preceded by low grade fever, nausea, loss of appetite, headache, sore throat, spots in the oral cavity and general feeling of lack of well-being (Malaise).
The characteristic rash forms small red spots which become itchy blisters and eventually crusts and scabs over. The rash usually starts on the chest, face and back before spreading to the rest of the body.
Chickenpox/Varicella vaccine should be administered to children at 12-15 months old and a booster dose at the age of between 4-6 years of age. The disease is usually mild to those who had been vaccinated. Healthy kids who have had Chickenpox don’t need the vaccine since they have developed lifelong protection against the illness.
Furthermore, isolating those infected can prevent the spread of the virus.
How you can manage chickenpox at home
Patients suffering from chickenpox are required to stay at home while they are infectious to avoid spreading the disease to others.
Chickenpox is rarely fatal and usually resolves by itself within a couple of weeks.
Management is by easing the symptoms. The itching can be controlled by cutting the nails short to prevent scratching thus avoid secondary infections, and use of moisturizing and soothing creams such as calamine lotion to reduce the itchiness. The patient is also advised to have plenty of Bed rest and fluids to prevent dehydration.
Paracetamol can be used over the counter to bring down the fever. Note that patients under the age of 13 years should never take aspirin since it could cause Reye’s syndrome in children.
When to see your Doctor
Chickenpox is usually mild and self-limiting. Seek medical advice in case you are not sure if it’s Chickenpox, if the baby is less than 4 weeks, if you develop chickenpox as an adult, if the rash spreads to the eye or if the symptoms persist for more than 6 days without any improvement. Also pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers or anyone with a weakened immune system such as those suffering from cancer and HIV should seek medical advice if they suspect they are infected.
In cases where the patient exhibits signs of Chickenpox complications such as red, swollen and painful skin indicating a secondary bacterial skin infection, see your Doctor.
Coughing, difficulty in breathing and chest pains normally indicates Pneumonia.
Since chickenpox is usually a milder illness in a child than in an adult, most people argue that it is better to get it over with as a child. Other parents would say, ‘I could not willingly let my child develop an illness.’ Different people have different views on the issue. But yes, chickenpox symptoms are milder for children and the risk of complications is rare compared to adults…but could still happen. It also saves you a lot of embarrassment of the public itchiness, scratching and blisters when suffering as an adult.
Considering all this, would you rather get Chickenpox as a child or an adult?
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