Chickenpox: Dispelling the myths

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Most children will catch chickenpox at some point; it’s normal and usually nothing to worry about. It can even occur in adults who have not had the infection when they’re young. It's usually mild and clears up in a week or so, but for some it can be dangerous either during the infection or afterwards.  

Dr Amy Bibby, doctor at Qure, the healthcare on demand app, is here to offer his advice on how to: identify the symptoms, treat the infection and know when/if you need to seek further medical help.

Symptoms of chickenpox
The symptoms usually appear between one and three weeks after infection in the form of an itchy rash that develops in three stages:
* spots – red raised spots develop on the face or chest before spreading to other parts of the body
* blisters – over the next few hours or the following day, very itchy fluid-filled blisters develop on top of the spots
* scabs and crusts – after a further few days, the blisters dry out and scab over to form a crust; the crusts then gradually fall off by themselves over the next week or two

When the rash is in its spots and blister stage is when it is highly contagious and easily passed on. This only ends when the blisters scab over, which usually happens about five or six days after the rash appears.

How to treat chickenpox at home
While a person with chickenpox will most likely  feel under the weather and uncomfortable, treatment is relatively simple and can be administered at home, which can help relieve symptoms.

* Use paracetamol to relieve fever and discomfort – don't use anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, as they can sometimes make people with chickenpox very ill
* Use calamine lotion, moisturising creams or cooling gels to ease itching
* Tap or pat the skin rather than scratching it – it's important to avoid scratching because this can lead to further problems for example spread the infection
* Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated

Following these steps should see your symptoms ease off over the next few days. Getting children to not scratch the blisters can be tough, so I suggest keeping their nails short and clean just in case they do scratch. That way there’s less chance of the breaking the skin and infecting the wound or cause permanent scarring.

Seeking medical advice
Chickenpox is usually mild and will get better on its own. However, there are occasions where you can become more seriously ill and need to seek medical attention. I suggest contacting your GP or NHS 111 for advice if:
* Your baby is less than four weeks old and has chickenpox
* You develop chickenpox as an adult
* The symptoms don’t improve after six days
* You’re pregnant and come into contact with someone who has chickenpox, or you begin to develop the symptoms
* You or your child has signs of chickenpox complications, such as swollen and painful skin, difficulty breathing or dehydration
You may also consider contacting a doctor if you get chickenpox as an adult and you’re originally from a place near the equator (the tropics), as adulthood chickenpox is much more common there and you may need treatment to stop you from becoming seriously ill.


How is chickenpox spread?

Like any other infection, chickenpox can be spread easily by coming in contact with an infected person or an object that an infected person has touched. The infection is spread in the fluid found in chickenpox blisters and the droplets in the coughs or sneezes of someone with the infection. So it’s vital you ensure that if someone in your household is infected, you keep them away from others and disinfect areas they come in contact with to prevent the illness spreading.

The good thing is, once you’ve had chickenpox you should be immune for life.


Potential complications

In rare circumstances there can be serious complications that can occur as a result of chickenpox. These are more common in adults, pregnant women, newborn babies and people with weakened immune systems, but it’s always best to keep your eye on things even if you’re a relatively healthy person.

Complications can include:
* A bacterial skin infection – this can cause the skin to become red, swollen and painful
* A lung infection (pneumonia) – this can cause a persistent cough, breathing difficulties and chest pain
* Pregnancy problems – including the infection spreading to the unborn baby

Some people with chickenpox may develop shingles later in life. This is a painful, blistery rash caused by the chickenpox virus becoming reactivated.

All in all, the chickenpox virus is usually relatively harmless and easily treated providing you or your child are generally healthy. While there is some discomfort that comes with the infection, you should make a full recovery in just under a week. However, if you’re ever concerned about your symptoms or are worried you are suffering some complications post-infection, you should contact a medical professional immediately, whether that’s going to your local GP or having a doctor visit your home through the Qure app.

Qure is one of London's newest and most innovative health services. It provides a speedy 24/7 'doctor to your door' service via an app, offering affordable medical attention at the touch of a button. To find out more about Qure and flu vaccination prices, please click here.

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