A guide to chicken pox this year

George Tambassis.


The international search for a coronavirus vaccine highlights the importance vaccination plays in our health and wellbeing.

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Vaccines are available for a range of disease and one which is important to protect yourself from is chickenpox
Chickenpox (varicella) is a highly contagious viral disease which is typically characterised by the presence of a blistering, itchy skin rash. As the rash progresses it generally forms a scab which eventually falls off.

Outbreaks of chickenpox are more common in winter and early spring but the encouraging fact is that everyone – children and adults – can be immunised against chickenpox.

The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel advises that for most healthy people, chickenpox is mild and the person who has suffered from it generally recovers fully without specific treatment.

“Complications do occur in approximately 1 percent of cases. Chickenpox is more severe in adults and in anyone (of any age) with impaired immunity. Immunisation is the best way to prevent chickenpox,” the Better Health Channel website advises.

These complications may include:

● scarring – chickenpox can leave pockmark scars on the skin
● cellulitis – a bacterial infection of the skin
● pneumonia – infection and inflammation of the lung in adults which can prove to be fatal
● encephalitis – inflammation of the brain, usually mild, but sometimes severe
● bleeding disorders – these are rare but can be fatal
● death – in rare cases
● shingles can occur in people who have previously had chickenpox.
● bacterial skin infections
● swelling of the membranes covering the brain (aseptic meningitis)
● decrease in blood platelet cell (thrombocytopenia)
● short-term effect on movement (acute cerebellar ataxia)
● foetal abnormalities in pregnant women
● encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

The Better Health Channel also advises that: “Children with chickenpox should not go to school, kindergarten or childcare until the last blister has dried. You should tell your child’s school, kindergarten or childcare if your child has chickenpox, as other children may need to be immunised or treated.”

A child with chickenpox is likely to have a fever that will last for at least the first few days of the illness and the spots accompanying the disease can be very itchy. Some children have only a few spots, but in others they can cover the entire body and there is no rule as to what level of spot coverage a child may suffer.

The spots are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest and belly, and on the arms and legs.

It is important that the child be kept away from school and other activities as the incubation period for chickenpox is between one and three weeks. The most infectious time is between one and two days before the rash appears, but it continues to be infectious until all the blisters have crusted over.

While complications are rare, chickenpox can be severe at any age and have serious complications.

Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid chickenpox as it can affect the unborn baby by causing foetal malformations, skin scarring and other serious problems including congenital varicella syndrome.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia George Tambassis said it was important for people to be vaccinated against chickenpox.

However, if a person contracted the disease, their community pharmacist could help provide relief and advice.

“Unfortunately at present there is no specific treatment for chickenpox,” Mr Tambassis said.

“There is a range of medicines and pharmacy products which can help alleviate symptoms.

“These can include paracetamol to relieve fever and cooling gels to ease itching.

“Taking to the pharmacist and pharmacy staff will help to ensure you get the best product for your needs.

“But we stress always that prevention is better than cure so having a vaccination shot against chickenpox should be a priority for everyone.”

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