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27th Jul 2018

10 things you might not have known about the chicken pox


Getting the chicken pox is something of a rite of passage for Irish children.

While a vaccination against the viral infection is available privately, most off us will opt to allow our kids to get it, and have it over with, while they are young.

The couple of week’s downtime from creche or school can be a trying time for the parents, but once your kids have been through it, the likelihood is that they won’t get it again.

Or will they?

Here are 10 things you didn’t know about the chicken pox:

1. What’s in a name?

While we know that the word ‘pox’ refers to the viral infection, there is some speculation as to where the ‘chicken’ part originated. Some say it it in reference to the ‘mild’ nature of the infection (chicken as in ‘scared’), and others that it is because a person with chicken pox looks like they might have been pecked by a chicken!

2. Pregnancy rumours

You will have heard that children with chicken pox should be kept away from pregnant women and that IS true – but only in case the pregnant woman herself has not previously had chicken pox. You should definitely inform someone you know who is pregnant if your child has the infection, but if they’ve had the chicken pox themselves at some point, they should be ok, but there is always a chance of chicken pox reoccurring later on in life as shingles. However, if you are pregnant, have never had the chicken pox and have been exposed to a child who has or had them, your doctor can prescribe a treatment to protect you and your unborn child. Always consult your GP if you are worried.

3. Incubation

The chicken pox virus enters our system through the nose, mouth or broken skin and incubates in the body for between 10 and 21 days before the rash appears. This is why your child might seem ‘off’ – lethargic, bad form, loss of appetite, long before you know the real reason why.

4. Invisible germs

The most contagious time for a sick person to spread the chicken pox is about one or two days right before the spots appear. Therefore, your child may have already passed it on at daycare or school without you realising it. Equally, they may have caught it from another child who wasn’t visibly sick. Sneaky stuff, this chicken pox!

5. Rash, then fever

Once chicken pox enters the bloodstream after the incubation period, the body starts to fight back, often in the form of a fever. Children get these high temperatures alongside the spots for approximately three days after which it subsides, which is why they’re so miserable!

6. Scratching as a good sign

‘Don’t scratch!’ we’ll roar at them, and try everything to minimise the itch, like using a soothing gel or spray product especially designed for children. Of course that is a really good idea in order to give great comfort to your child but did you know why they are itchy in the first place? It is a sign that the brain has been alerted to the virus and has started to fight back. Go, team!

7. Numbers, numbers

The number of blisters that an infected person might get can range from 250-500! Typically, the begin to show on the head, torso and face and can spread to the mouth, eyelids and genitals – yuck.

8. Doctor’s orders

Chicken pox can usually be treated at home and rarely has any other complications. However, you should contact your GP immediately if the following occurs:

1.  The fever lasts longer than four days or exceeds 38 degrees celsius
2.  The rash spreads to the eyeballs
3.  The rash appears to be infected
4.  Dizziness
5.  Tremors
6.  Stiffness in the neck
7.  Increased vomiting or coughing

9. ‘Chicken pox parties’ are a thing

..and they’re not an act of parenting cruelty, in case you were wondering. The potential for life-threatening complications is far greater if an adult gets the chicken pox, which is why parents are keen for their children to go through it while they are young, by allowing their own kid’s visit another who has the virus. While children typically make up the majority of the population in terms of chicken pox cases, they also experience the fewest complications.

10. You can catch the chicken pox twice

Well, you can have the virus twice, although it may present itself in different ways. The official word is that you get the chicken pox first, and the virus remains dormant in your system until such time as your immune system is compromised later on (due to stress, illness for example) – and then you get the shingles. There are definite personal accounts of repeat chicken pox in both children and adults to dispute this, but as it stands, most healthcare professionals would say that this isn’t medically possible.

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