Chickenpox
3066 Chicken Pox Child Istock

Chickenpox is caused by the highly contagious varicella-zoster virus and is transmitted through the air as well as through skin-to-skin contact. E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork explains how chickenpox infects the body.

Most children have had the chickenpox vaccine, so the chance of an outbreak in your community is much less than in previous years. However, if there is an outbreak, don’t panic. If your child has not been vaccinated, it’s not too late to see your doctor for the shot.

If your child was vaccinated but gets sick anyway, rest assured that the illness will be much milder than if he or she wasn’t. Chickenpox is extremely contagious for about a week, or until sores have crusted over.

One of the greatest discomforts of the infection are the itchy blisters that accompany it, but pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears cautions that scratching them can cause infection or scarring.

To stop your young ones from scratching, try:
• Oatmeal baths to soothe the skin
• Oral anti-histamines, especially at bed time
• Trimming fingernails
• Putting gloves on their hands

While ninety percent of chickenpox infections occur during childhood, adult infections can also occur and have serious ramifications. To prevent contracting the virus, adults can get vaccinated. Some adults may already be immune to chickenpox if they carry the antibodies, which can be determined through a blood test.

"Pregnant women should see if they're immune to it," OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson advises. "Because it's really bad if they get it when they're pregnant, and then they should wait three months until after they get the vaccine [to get pregnant]."

"When I was young, we use to have chickenpox parties. It worked for me, but should I do the same for my own children?" - Clare, Blackburn, England

A chickenpox party is when a child spends time with other children infected with the virus in order to contract it themselves and gain immunity. Dr. Sears says it's not possible to predict who will have a mild case of chickenpox and who will have a serious or even deadly case of the virus. Now that there is a safe and effective vaccine, it is not worth taking this chance. About one in 10 unvaccinated children who get the disease will have a complication from chickenpox serious enough to visit a health-care provider. In vaccinated children, chickenpox illness is typically mild, producing no symptoms at all, other than a few red bumps.

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