Back-To-School Time #3: What to Know About Chicken Pox

Published on Sep 07, 2017 at 12:54p.m.

Chickenpox is a respiratory illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus.  Chickenpox is highly contagious and even in brief exposure can pose a serious health risk to those who have never had or are unprotected against the disease.  The primary route of illness is from direct contact with mucus from the eyes, nose or mouth and from fluid inside blisters of an infected individual.  It can also be passed along from mouth or nose droplets that become airborne via coughing or sneezing.  It can also be spread by someone with uncovered shingles lesions (reactivated chickenpox from prior illness of such).

Here are some signs and symptoms of chickenpox:

  • Rash or small red bumps blistering over a 3-4 day period that form scabs
  • Rash is more noticeable on the trunk of the body than exposed parts of the body
  • Fever, runny nose and cough
  • Rash may be present in mouth, ears, scalp and genital region
  • Crops or groups of blisters will develop over a several day period, so red bumps, blisters and scabs may be present all at the same time

Chickenpox can be controlled by doing the following:

  • Vaccinate all children 12 months of age or older
  • Vaccinate young adults and other susceptible adults
  • Exclude infected children, caregivers and teachers until rash is crusted over
  • Practice good and frequent handwashing
  • Sanitize surfaces near infected person and throughout areas that may be contaminated
  • Ventilate room with fresh air
  • Exclude children with chickenpox rash even if they had the varicella vaccine until clearance is given by their physician

Other things to know is that children with chickenpox should not be given aspirin, as that may increase the risk of contracting Reye Syndrome.  Also, pregnant woman should be referred to their health care professional within 24 hours after exposure to chickenpox.  Pregnant woman who have previously had chickenpox are not generally at risk, but their health care provider should confirm their protection against the virus.  The virus can stay in an inactive form in the body’s nerve cells.  If the inactive virus becomes active, shingles or herpes zoster may become present.  It is also rare that individuals get chickenpox a second time.  Generally, if this happens, the cases are much more mild with less fever and less bumps.  Lastly, it is possible to get chickenpox even if you have been vaccinated.  The current vaccine is estimated to be 70% to 85% effective against mild disease and 95% effective against severe cases.

For more information about chickenpox, one should consult with their pediatrician or health care provider.  Additional information is available at the following websites:

http://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/about/

http://www.state.nj.us/health/cd/documents/faq/varicella_faq.pdf

The Teaneck Public Health Nurse can also be contacted at:  (201) 227-6251, should you have any questions.

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