Chickenpox is a highly communicable disease caused by the varicella virus, a member of the herpes virus family. In temperate climates, chickenpox occurs most frequently in winter and early spring.

Chickenpox is transmitted to others by direct person-to-person contact, by droplet or airborne spread of discharges from an infected person's nose and throat or indirectly by contact with articles freshly soiled by discharges from the infected person's lesions. The scabs themselves are not considered infectious.

A vaccine for chicken pox, called Varivax, is now available and is about 85 percent effective for preventing all cases of chicken pox. The vaccine is now given to all children (with the exception of certain high-risk groups) at 12-18 months of age, preferably when they receive their measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Vaccination is also recommended for any older child or adult considered susceptible to the disease. A single dose of the vaccine is sufficient for children up to age 12; older children and adults receive a second dose four to eight weeks later. The risks of the vaccine are extremely small, but those interested in getting the vaccine should check with their doctor about potential side affects.

The antiviral medicine acyclovir may be prescribed for people with chickenpox who are at risk for complications. The drug, which can make the infection less severe, must be given within the first 24 hours after the rash appears. Acyclovir can have significant side effects, so it is only given when necessary. Your doctor can tell you if the medication is right for your child.

If you or your child has a fever that lasts longer than 4 days or rises above 102ºF, call your health-care provider. Also if any areas of the rash or any part of the body become very red, warm, or tender, or begin leaking pus (thick, discolored fluid), call your health-care provider since these symptoms may indicate a bacterial infection. Call your doctor immediately if the individual with chickenpox seems extremely ill, is difficult to wake up or appears confused, has difficulty walking, has a stiff neck, is vomiting repeatedly, has difficulty breathing, or has a severe cough.

Remember that an infected person will be contagious until new blisters have stopped appearing and until all the blisters have scabs. They should stay at home while they are infectious.

Part of the treatment for chicken pox is giving the patient bath every 3 to 4 hours to relieve the itching, adding some dry oat meal to the water. For the fever it is recommended to use acetaminophen not being indicated for patients under 20. Best thing to do would be to follow the doctor’s advice.

There are oatmeal based products that can help relieve itching related to chicken pox. "Taking Care of Your Child", also gives remedies to help alleviate itching. Warm baking soda baths and calamine lotion can help provide relief. Antihistimines can be prescribed by your doctor if topical medications do not help. It is very important not to scratch because of possible scarring. The book suggests trimming the fingernails or placing gloves on children to discourage scratching.

People at higher risk of developing serious complications from chickenpox or shingles may be given antiviral drugs such as acyclovir and/or immunoglobulin (a specialized preparation of antibodies taken from the plasma of blood donors), which may prevent severe illness developing.

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