Earlier this month, Collective Prevention Services (CPS) of the Ministry of Public Health here on St. Maarten told us to be on the lookout for chickenpox; because there have been cases of children sick with it on Saba.
Chickenpox is a common childhood illness (though adults can also catch it). It is caused by a virus called the varicella zoster virus. This virus is very contagious which means that it spreads from person to person very easily. The virus is spread through the air when a person who has chickenpox coughs or sneezes; or by touching the infectious fluid from the blisters.
Chickenpox usually starts off very like a cold, with a runny or blocked nose and a cough. A day or two later, a rash of raised red dots appears on the skin – often on the face and chest. The rash may spread all over the body, in some cases even on the ears and inside the mouth. Soon after that, fluid-filled blisters come up on top of the red dots. These blisters are terribly itchy.
A person with chickenpox will stay infectious until all the blisters have dried up and scabbed over. This usually takes about a week; but could take longer. The scabs will eventually fall off by themselves. A person with chickenpox can also have tummy upsets and fever in addition to feeling weak and unwell.
CPS recommends that any child that has suspected chickenpox should be taken to be checked and monitored by the family doctor. Though chickenpox is usually not a serious health threat; serious complications can sometimes occur and the doctor can advise you about them. Children should remain off school for at least a week, so they can recover and to help prevent spreading the illness to others.
Kids with chickenpox are always told not to scratch, as it could break the blisters and spread the infection or let germs in. Scratching could also leave scars. It’s very hard not to scratch, because the blisters are so itchy. Laying a cool, clean face cloth on the itchy spots, or taking a cool bath could help soothe the itch. It’s a good idea to make sure your fingernails are cut short, to help avoid scratching. Your parents may dab calamine lotion on the spots. The doctor may also give you a cream or lotion to help ease the itching.
If you have chickenpox, you should keep your hands clean, washing them often with soap and running water. If you are coughing, make sure you cough into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow so that the virus doesn’t go into the air and infect other people when they breathe. Surfaces around the house should be cleaned with disinfectant; and bed linen, towels and clothes should be changed and washed often.
Always tell your parents or an adult if you are feeling very ill, if you have a high fever or if your skin feels very hot and sore.