Chickenpox Is A Preventable Disease: Here’s How To Manage Symptoms And Avoid Transmission
A pediatrician answers your frequently asked questions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us realize that there is nothing more important than keeping our family members healthy, especially our kids who are yet to receive COVID-19 vaccines. But while the focus has been on keeping ourselves protected from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we shouldn’t forget that there are other infectious diseases that remain a threat to adults and children alike. One of these is “Varicella,” more commonly known as “Chickenpox.”
How common is chickenpox?
According to the 2018 Philippine Health Statistics, chickenpox is one of the most common illnesses in the NCR, Ilocos, CALABARZON, Bicol, Central Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Davao, and ARMM.
While it is not included in the national list of leading causes of death, its prevalence rates range from 7.4 to 34.2 per 100,000 population, which is high.
In an interview with OneLife.ph, board-certified pediatrician and health educator Dr. Cristal Laquindanum-Tan (also known as MillennialPedia), says that there were 335 cases of chickenpox that were hospitalized from January 2018 to present, based on the Philippine Pediatric Society ICD Hospital Registry. However, the real figures could be higher as there may be unreported cases since chickenpox is considered a “relatively mild” disease.
How is chickenpox transmitted?
“Chickenpox is caused by a virus called Varicella-zoster virus and is transmitted by contact with mouth/throat secretions and the fluid of skin lesions of infected individuals, either by airborne spread or through direct contact,” says Dr. Laquindanum-Tan. “Incubation period is 10-21 days when the virus replicates inside the body before it shows any signs and symptoms.”
It can be quite tricky to prevent the transmission of the virus, as it is already contagious before the rashes even appear.
“The person is still contagious until all lesions have crusted or no new lesions appear within a 24-hour period. Itusually takes around a week,” she adds.
What are the symptoms of Chickenpox?
“Chickenpox is an acute febrile rash illness, meaning there’s a sudden fever (usually 37.8-38.9°C but may be as high as 41.1°C) with rash,” Dr. Laquindanum-Tan explains.
The red, tiny bumps or rashes start on the scalp, face, or torso. They can become very itchy before they evolve into fluid-filled tiny bumps.
“While the first few rashes already evolve and crust, new lesions will appear on the trunk and extremities and these simultaneous presence of lesions in various stages of evolution is characteristic of chickenpox.”
However, it’s possible for some children to develop lesions in the mouth, genital area, and eyelids, too. Additional symptoms may also include weakness, headaches, mild abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.
How is chickenpox treated?
If your child has a responsive immune system with uncomplicated and mild chickenpox, it’s possible to treat the virus at home. According to Dr. Laquindanum-Tan, “Supportive treatment may be done at home: anti-fever medication if there’s fever, offer more fluids, taking a bath, application of lotion to decrease itchiness, and keep fingernails short to prevent trauma and secondary bacterial infection from scratching.”
Medications like Acyclovir may also be given, depending on your doctor’s recommendation. However, Dr. Laquindanum-Tan says that this only has a window effect, which means it must be given within 3 days from the start of your child’s rashes. Acyclovir may be considered for those with chronic skin or lung disorders or for children older than 12 years old, as they have an increased risk of moderate to severe varicella.
Even though chickenpox is considered a mild disease, some complications may still happen.
“Warning signs may include fever for more than 4 days, lesions that are infected (red, warm, swollen lesions with discharge), change in behavior, or severe cough with difficulty in breathing,” explains Dr. Laquindanum-Tan.
If your child experiences these symptoms, call your doctor and seek immediate medical attention.
How can we prevent our children from getting chickenpox?
Luckily, chickenpox can be prevented by vaccines! One way to ensure that our children are safe is by having them vaccinated with the two-dose varicella vaccine at 12-15 months old, and four to six years old.
“The minimum interval between the two doses is 3 months for children 12 years of age or younger and 4 weeks for older children, adolescents, and adults. One dose of varicella vaccine is already >97% effective in preventing moderate and severe varicella, but it’s important to complete the two-dose regimen as recommended,” says Dr. Laquindanum-Tan.
If an unvaccinated child has been exposed to someone with chickenpox, he or she may still be vaccinated, as long as it is within three to five days from exposure. Dr. Laquindanum-Tan suggests isolating the person with chickenpox until all his lesions are dry and have crusted, which usually takes at least five days after onset of rashes.