Don't be chicken

Until the age of one, a baby is protected from chicken pox by antibodies that have crossed over before birth from the mother. By the age of 20, 90 per cent of people has had chickenpox.

By YOUR HEALTH - Dr Gita Mathai
  • Published 13.06.18
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Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Until the age of one, a baby is protected from chicken pox by antibodies that have crossed over before birth from the mother. By the age of 20, 90 per cent of people has had chickenpox.

A baby should be given a chicken pox vaccine soon after the first birthday. It is not provided free by the government but has to be purchased. The injection is painless and there is little fever. A booster has to be given around the age of 4-5.

Chickenpox spreads like a wildfire in schools. The symptom-free incubation period lasts 15-20 days, during which the child is extremely contagious. The first week of infection is characterised by fatigue, mild fever and a runny nose. Red patches then appear all over the body, followed by fluid-filled blisters. These develop a central punctate depression, become black scabs and fall off. Nasal secretions, sputum and shed scabs are all highly infectious. Recovery occurs in 10 days. Traditionally, chicken pox is considered a mild childhood disease from which recovery is spontaneous. Most of the scars disappear on their own, provided they were not scratched and secondarily infected.

Unfortunately, in 10 per cent cases complications set in. The virus can spread to the lungs and brain, causing pneumonia and encephalitis. It can cause shock. It can result in death. If infection occurs in the first three months of pregnancy, the baby may later have mental retardation. It can cause sterility in men and women. Once the disease occurs in a child, it can recur in adult life as painful, debilitating herpes zoster.

The patient should be kept isolated to prevent spread. Paracetamol can be given every 4-6 hours. Antihistamines are helpful to control itching. Once scabs have formed, traditional neem leaf baths provide relief. If acyclovir is started within 24 hours of developing the rash, it can make recovery faster.

Prevention is always better. Naturopathy and natural immunity do have a place, but in the 21st century, our children have a right to protection against preventable diseases.