Chicken pox is the common name for the varicella virus. It is a common childhood illness which generally runs its course without serious medical intervention. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of chicken pox to prevent exposure and disease spread, and to help keep the person affected comfortable.
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History of Chicken Pox
During the Middle Ages, the name "pox" was assigned to a number of diseases which were believed to be brought on as the result of a curse. People thought that the chicken pox attacked children who had been cursed by black magic. Giovanni Filippo, an Italian doctor, first described the disease in the mid 1500s. From this time on, the disease was thought to be a milder form of small pox. Only in the 1700's, William Heberden proved that it was, in fact, a completely separate disease.
The most common symptom of the chicken pox is a rash. This rash begins as small red spots, then progresses to look like whiteheads, and finally becomes larger, watery blisters. The rash first appears on the face and torso, but then spreads over the surface of the body, according to the National Institutes of Health. In severe cases, blisters can also appear on the eyes, in the mouth and nose, and on the scalp and genitals. Single blisters are usually not more than 1/4 inch wide and appear in small patches. Other symptoms can include a stomach ache, head ache, body aches and fever.
Groups at Risk
The Kids' Health Organization confirms that children between the ages of 2 and 12 are most effected by the disease, though it remains common through age 15. Infants and adults who contract the disease tend to be more adversely effected than those who contract the chicken pox during their childhood years. Those who contract the disease carry it for the remainder of their lives making them more susceptible to shingles, but immune to further chicken pox outbreaks.
Vaccination and Treatment
According to the Immunization Action Coalition, it is now common practice to vaccinate children between the ages of 12 and 15 months for the virus which causes chicken pox, and to administer a vaccination booster between 4 and 6 years of age to prevent infection. Children who are not immunised may contract the disease, which is highly contagious. The child should be kept comfortable by treating the symptoms. Topical care, including the application of anti-itch creams, can keep children from scratching. Tylenol can be administered to relieve discomfort, and to lower a fever. Aspirin should be completely avoided, because it can interact with the virus to cause Reye syndrome.
All the blisters associated with the disease appear over the course of two to four days. Symptoms can then continue for an additional five to 10 days. A child who has contracted chicken pox is generally contagious two days before the rash appears, making it extremely easy to spread. Chicken pox continues to be contagious as long as there are open sores, and children should stay out of the school setting until all the blisters have dried up.
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