Chickenpox – Why Prevention Is Important for Your Little Ones
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in massive disruptions to everyday life. Whether it is a varying negative effect an individual experiences such as disruptions to sleep patterns, eating habits and mental health or major changes affecting the general population such as in education, employment and public health sectors, life is just not quite the same.
Children have endured emotional, social and academic ordeals that have been unfavorable for their progression.
The right to go to school and learn is central to every child’s development. School paves the way to a realm of opportunities for a better future.
It is also a place where some of the fondest memories are made – remember the games that made us wish recess and after school play time lasted forever? Hopscotch, eraser battles, congkak, chup tiang just to name a few. Concerts, sports day, year-end photo taking sessions and class parties were all very special days that every kid anticipated.
It is unfortunate that our children have missed out on nearly two years of proper schooling and creating joyful memories.
As of March 31, 2022, 97.6% of the Malaysian adult population and 91.7% of adolescents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
With stringent preventive safety measures in place and rapid COVID-19 vaccination rollout, life appears to be restarting in the new normal. Parents prepare to send their children back to kindergartens, daycare centers and schools.
Although not all children are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination as yet, we must take precautions against other vaccine preventable diseases such as chickenpox.
The unknown dangers
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This virus is highly contagious and spreads easily among young children through saliva, mucus and direct contact with blister fluid.
The classic symptom is a rash that turns into itchy fluid filled blisters and eventually becomes scabs.
Other symptoms include fever, tiredness, headache and loss of appetite. Ulcerated lesions may also develop on the mucous membranes of the mouth and genitalia causing a child to refuse food or drink or experience painful trips to the toilet.
In the past, some parents participated in “chickenpox parties” to intentionally expose their unvaccinated children to a child with chickenpox hoping that they too will get infected. This is in fact dangerous and there is no way to tell just how severe your child’s symptoms will be.
Chickenpox is often perceived as a “harmless infection” that all children must experience in order to develop immunity. This notion is not only false but is dangerous to the child’s health.
Chickenpox can lead to dangerous complications that require hospitalisation or may even result in death.
Scratching the itchy lesions for instance, can lead to secondary bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissue. It is important to note that children with eczema or dermatitis may have severe skin symptoms when they contract chickenpox.
In addition to secondary bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissue, chickenpox may also cause infection of the lungs (varicella pneumonia), inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia) and infection of the liver (hepatitis).
The virus never leaves your body
Varicella-zoster virus does not leave your body once you are infected.
The virus stays in an inactivated state in your spinal cord. Later in life, as your immune system weakens with age or stress, this virus can be reactivated to cause a very painful infection called shingles.
Shingles presents as a burning or tingling pain and rash with blisters that can last up to five weeks. After the rash disappears, you may be left with ongoing pain (post-herpetic neuralgia).
Blisters near or in the eye can cause lasting eye damage or blindness. Hearing loss, a brief paralysis of the face, or, very rarely, swelling of the brain (encephalitis) can also occur.
As we prepare to venture out of the confines of our homes once again in the new normal, an infection like chickenpox would not only be potentially dangerous for your child but it would also be a major set-back for the entire household.
Contracting chickenpox would mean your child would have to take time off from school or nursery until all the spots have crusted over, which is usually about five days after the spots first appear.
Other children and even adults in the same household who have not acquired immunity towards chickenpox may also get infected. Adults, pregnant women, and infants are at risk for a more severe form of chickenpox and have a higher incidence of complications.
Juggling work and other responsibilities on top of caring for your sick child may be chaotic, not to mention the emotional distress you may endure as a result of seeing your precious child unwell.
How do I protect my child from Chickenpox?
As with most infectious diseases, you can prevent chickenpox by practicing good hygiene such as thorough handwashing and staying away from infected individuals.
However, it is important to point out that after exposure to a case of chickenpox or shingles it takes about two weeks for one to develop the disease. One is vulnerable and contagious even before the appearance of the rash. This means you can’t really tell who has chickenpox.
The chickenpox vaccination helps prevent chickenpox. Some people who are vaccinated against chickenpox may still get the disease in which case, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer or no blisters (they may have just red spots) and mild or no fever.
The chickenpox vaccination also helps protect from the serious complications of chickenpox that require hospitalisation.
Give yourself one less thing to worry about, speak to your doctor about chickenpox protection for your child today.