WHAT IT MEANS WHEN YOUR DOCTOR SAYS... Your child has chickenpox
With the milder spring weather comes the start of chickenpox season. Children are the main sufferers but there is not really any reason to consult a doctor as most cases are pretty mild. The rash is easy to identify— the spots appear in clusters called crops — and you get new crops each day over several days. The spots start red, then blister with fluid before going crusty and scabbing over. They are normally really itchy.
In otherwise healthy youngsters, chickenpox is not normally dangerous: there are some possible complications, such as scarring of the skin and secondary infections of the skin or ears, for which antibiotics are needed. More problematic complications include pneumonia and kidney problems, but these are rare.
Chickenpox normally develops within two to three weeks of contact. People are contagious from a day or two before the rash starts until the rash has crusted over completely — usually a week after the first spot develops. It is highly infectious and is spread in the air, so you can catch it just by being in the same room as someone who has it.
Minimising the itch with calamine lotion or anti-itch medication (antihistamines) is the first thing to do. Scratching causes scarring, so this is really important. Taking a bath run through porridge oats — put them in a sock or a muslin bag so the water goes milky — also provides effective relief. Most children have a low-grade fever with chickenpox but you can control their temperature with paracetamol or ibuprofen as normal and give them plenty of fluids.
I’m always asked if people should make their children get chickenpox on purpose. Most of us will have chickenpox at some stage, so it makes sense to get it over with, although it does seems strange willingly to let your child develop an illness. For girls, it is better to have it as a child as then there is no chance of getting it while pregnant.
And finally the chickenpox/shingles question everyone asks, and no, shingles is not adult chickenpox. Chickenpox in adults is the same illness as it is in children, with the same spots, although the symptoms are normally worse. Shingles is a reactivation of your old chickenpox many years later, often after the age of 50. The virus lies dormant in a nerve, then starts to multiply again when you are run down. If your child has chickenpox, no one can catch shingles from her.