This year, chicken pox infections are being reported earlier than usual, and unlike in the past when children formed the majority of the patients, adults are increasingly picking up the virus, warn doctors.
The civic-run Kasturba hospital at Chinchpokli has admitted 60 patients, all diagnosed with chicken pox. "We have only eight children admitted, the rest are adults," said Dr Umesh Aigal, medical superintendent of the hospital.
"Last year, we treated one to two adults for chicken pox. Seasonal variations and poor hygiene could be the reason why adults are catching the infection," said Dr Shahid Barmare, physician at Kohinoor hospital, Kurla. "Also, this year, we are seeing cases in February; usually the infection starts in March and continues till April."
Dr Nitin Shah, paediatrician at PD Hinduja hospital has been treating three children a day for the past one week.
Doctors said owing to underlying issues such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, the risk of complications is higher in adults. "Adults can develop encephalitis or infection in the brain and pneumonia because of chicken pox," said Dr Pratit Samdani, consultant physician, Jaslok hospital, who is currently treating a patient who has developed herpes zoster, a complication arising from chicken pox.
Doctors said when children get infected, they are kept indoors, which is not the case with adults. "If the lesions are only on the back and stomach, many patients go to work and spread the infection," said a doctor from a private hospital.
The first 10 days of the infection are the most contagious, said doctors. Chicken pox spreads through the air and can also spread if one comes in contact with the lesions.
Adult chicken pox is more uncomfortable. "It's more itchy and sometimes patients develop respiratory problems. There are no medicines to treat it. We advise moisturising the skin and drinking lots of water," said Dr Apratim Goel, dermatologist, who runs a clinic in Bandra and whose three staff members recently contracted the disease.
Only patients who get dehydrated or have lesions in the mouth need hospitalisation, Dr Barmare said. "I treated five cases of chicken pox recently."