By Dr Angela Rai of the London General Practice. The fourth in our series of articles.
With spring in bloom comes the emergence of viruses such as Chickenpox, a highly contagious infection caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). Predominantly affecting children under 12, it can affect anyone at any age if they have not previously had the infection or the vaccination. It is usually a mild illness and clears up in a week or so, but can be dangerous for some people, such as pregnant women, new-born babies and those with a weakened immune system. Whilst there is a chickenpox vaccine it is not part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule.
Around 90% of people who come into contact with an affected person will develop the condition. Transmission is through direct person to person contact, airborne droplet infection, or even through contact with infected clothing or bedding.
The incubation period is around 14-21 days. The most infectious period being 1-2 days before the rash appears, but infectivity continues until all the lesions are dry and have crusted over, usually about 5 days after the onset of the rash.
Symptoms normally start with fever and a general feeling of malaise. Then an intensely itchy rash develops. The chickenpox lesions usually start on the body or face, later spreading to the limbs and scalp. It typically begins with small red spots which quickly develop into a blisters which scab over in a few days.
Paracetamol can be used to help alleviate symptoms such as fever and pain. Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories should not be used in children or adults with chickenpox.
Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, wear loose comfortable cotton clothing and keep nails short to avoid scratching.
Calamine lotion can help relieve the itching as well as Piriton which is an antihistamine and licensed for the symptomatic relief of itching from chickenpox for children over the age of one.
When to Seek Medical Advice
It is important to contact your doctor if you are not sure of the diagnosis, if your baby is less than four weeks old, if you develop chickenpox as an adult or if the symptoms haven’t started to improve after six days. Also if you have been in contact with someone who has chickenpox (or you have symptoms) and you’re pregnant or have a weakened immune system. Also seek medical advice and see your GP if you or your child have signs of chickenpox complications, such as swollen and painful skin, difficulty breathing or dehydration.
The London General Practice provides a wide range of Private Medical Services including vaccinations against Chickenpox. If you would like to contact the Practice please telephone 020 7935 1000.