Risks at a glance:
- Can be severe in adults
- Stroke (see story below)
- Pneumonitis – (inflammation of lung tissue)
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- Invasive group A streptococcal infections (a severe and sometimes life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle and fat tissue or the lungs. This can be fatal, especially in babies and immunocompromised people.
- After chicken pox infection the virus remains dormant in nerve cells and can reactivate as shingles.
- Death – babies and immunocompromised are most at risk of chickenpox being fatal, but healthy people have been known to die from chicken pox as well
About the disease:
Chickenpox presents as an itchy, rash of small fluid-filled sacs, usually starting on the scalp and face, along with fever, tiredness, and feeling unwell. As the rash spreads to the body, arms, legs, hands, and feet the first fluid filled sacs dry out and become crusts. It normally takes about 7–10 days for all the crusts to disappear.
How it is spread:
Chickenpox is easilly spread via droplets from runny noses, sneezes, coughs, direct contact, or indirectly by touching freshly contaminated items like tissues. People with chickenpox are usually contagious from a few days before the rash appears until the rash has crusted over.
There is no cure for chickenpox, but calamine lotion or Phenergan (both available from pharmacies) may be useful for the itch. If treatment to reduce temperature or discomfort is necessary, paracetamol is recommended. Aspirin should not be given to children or adolescents who have chickenpox.
Impact of chickenpox:
In America before the chickenpox vaccine was introduced, each year from 1990 to 1994, about 4 million cases were reported and of these cases approximately 10 000 needed hospital care, and 100 died.
Between 1997 and 2016, chickenpox caused 132 deaths in Australia, and in 2016 alone, there were 395 hospital admissions for chickenpox.
One dose of chickenpox (varicella) vaccine will prevent chicken pox in approximately 80–85% of cases, and make it much milder in the few who do still catch it. Two doses of the vaccine are much more effective.
Real life chickenpox stories:
Renay’s son Jesse passed away following complications due to chickenpox at 9 years of age. You can watch their story here.