Recognizing and Treating Chickenpox

by April Reinhardt
(last updated September 5, 2008)

Categorized as one of the five childhood exanthems—or rashes—chickenpox was once a significant cause of childhood death. The five classical rashes are German measles, roseola, chickenpox, measles, and fifth disease. Mumps is not considered a childhood exanthem since it does not cause a rash. Chickenpox causes a rash and is a skin disease-causing illness.

If you're a baby boomer, you may recall being vaccinated in school with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine in the early 70s. I still bear the lumpy scar on my upper left arm at the multi-needle injection site. Today, children are vaccinated against MMR as well as chickenpox as part of their regular childhood vaccination schedule, and most grade schools and colleges require proof of immunization before they are accepted to attend the school.

Because chickenpox produces a skin rash, it is often confused with other exanthems. Characteristics of chickenpox are:

  • A rash that starts as red, raised lesions or welts
  • The lesions form blisters, fill with pus, burst, and then scab over
  • Severe itching
  • Slight fever
  • Lethargy and tiredness
  • The rash manifests itself mostly on the scalp, face, and trunk, and sometimes on the arms and legs

Chickenpox is highly contagious, spread from person to person through the air from an infected person's sneezing or coughing, and via direct contact. If you touch the fluid from a chickenpox blister, you can spread the disease. A person who has chickenpox is contagious for two days before a rash appears, and until all of the blisters have scabbed over—usually five to ten days.

Since chickenpox is viral in nature, antibiotics are not used to treat the disease. There are ways to treat the symptoms of chickenpox and to ease the itch and pain of the skin lesions:

  • Use calamine lotion or other over-the-counter anti-itch creams to relieve itching.
  • Bath in oatmeal. There are several oatmeal bath products on the market, specifically geared for relieving itching and swelling.
  • Use cool compresses on the relieve itching.
  • Do not scratch the rash. Scratching will open the blisters, subjecting them to possible infection.
  • Use acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.
  • If you have chickenpox inside your mouth, avoid acidic foods and juices.

Since chickenpox is highly contagious, wash your hands often if you have the disease, or are treating someone at home who has chickenpox. The fluid within the chickenpox blisters carries the virus and can be spread until the blisters scab over. Keep soiled towels, bedding, clothes, and other contaminated items separate from the rest of the household laundry, and use very hot water to wash and high heat to dry those items. Keep the infected person away from pregnant women, newborns, and elderly people, as their auto-immune systems may be compromised.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...

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