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Chickenpox is affecting even those who were vaccinated with mild symptoms.

The sudden change in weather has caused a spurt not only in viral fever and asthma, but also chickenpox, which is affecting young children across the country, writes Rhythma Kaul.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 25, 2009 23:54 IST
Rhythma Kaul
Rhythma Kaul
Hindustan Times

The sudden change in weather has caused a spurt not only in viral fever and asthma, but also chickenpox, which is affecting young children across the country.

“This year chickenpox is being reported a month earlier. We usually get cases in May or June. Though most people go to general practitioners, this year even hospitals are getting occasional cases,” said Dr Vandana Jain, assistant professor, department of paediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). This month alone, she has diagnosed 20 such cases.

In private clinics, the numbers are much higher. “I saw four chickenpox cases last week, which is much more than what I see every year,” said Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director and senior consultant paediatrics, Apollo Hospital, Delhi.

What is interesting about this year’s outbreak is that most children who had the infection had been vaccinated against the disease. What’s happening? “Chickenpox is highly contagious but the vaccine does scale down the severity of the attack,” said Dr Sibal.

Chickenpox is highly infectious and it usually affects children under 12 years. The infection comes with high fever, congestion of eyes and itchy, red spots, which usually appear first on the chest and upper abdomen and later cover the entire body. These rashes appear in crops; the red spots turn into small blisters that dry up and form scabs over a week.

A vaccine is available and recommended for children who have not had the infection by the age of 12. “It’s not a cheap vaccine but people prefer to give it to teenagers, as the chickenpox season usually coincides with Board and other entrance exams. Those who get chickenpox even after vaccination, have fewer rashes and the and recovery time is faster,” said Dr Sibal.

However, how long the protection lasts after a single dose is still an issue of debate. “A single dose, as of now, has not shown to be giving life-long protection. Those who can afford it should take it, otherwise it is not mandatory as you usually develop immunity once you’ve had the infection,’ said Dr Jain.

Treatment is symptomatic - paracetamol for fever, and sponging using a mixture of boric acid and cold water to reduce itching.

Like most viral fevers, the disease is self-limiting and usually gets over in 10 days to two weeks. One shot costs Rs 1,000, with physician’s charges making parents poorer by about Rs 1,500. “It is optional, but there is no point getting a shot after rashes appear. The incubation period of chickenpox is 18 days, so by the time rashes appear and the disease is diagnosed, the child has already infected several other people,” says Dr Sibal.

Here are the symptoms you can be vary of

* An itchy rash that usually begins in the abdomen and face then spreads to limbs

* The small red spots develop into blisters within hours and into scabs within a day or two

* New blisters appear after three to six days. The infected person may have fever

* It lasts 7 to 10 days in children and longer in adults

* Symptoms are mild in young children

How does it spread?

* It spreads from person to person through direct contact with infected droplets (sneezing, coughing) or contact with fluid from a blister

* A pregnant woman with chickenpox can infect the baby before birth. Mothers with chickenpox can also infect their newborns

How effective is the vaccine?

It prevents infection in some cases and in most cases, makes the symptoms milder

First Published: Apr 25, 2009 22:49 IST