It was a special birthday present: on her first birthday, mosquito bites appeared all over my daughter’s body. And while those damn mosquitoes seemed to be unable to find anyone else in the house, she was rapidly growing more and more bumps. It took a few hours, then we knew for sure: these aren’t mosquito bites, these are chicken pox.
Chickenpox: Almost every child will get them at some point, usually in their first years of life. And yet there are often uncertainties about how a child will have them, how much of a problem it will cause him or her and for how long, and above all: what about the risk of infection.
Facts and fables about chicken pox
- Fact: mainly children get it
95 percent of all children growing up in the Netherlands have had chicken pox by the age of 6.
- Fact: there is an average of 11 – 21 days between the moment of infection and the first symptoms of illness
This is called the incubation period: the time between infection and the moment when the first symptoms of the disease appear.
Fact: Chickenpox can be recognized by bumps and blisters on the skin
- Undeniably the symptoms of chicken pox.
- Fact: Before they get bumps, children first get sick
The first symptoms are often not feeling well, lethargy and (mild) fever.
- Myth: a child is immediately covered with chicken pox
This does not happen immediately: ‘only’ 1-2 days after the child has become ill, small red bumps often appear – first mainly on the head and trunk, then also in other places. It is also typical of the clinical picture that you see blisters in various stages spread over the body: from ‘fresh’ blisters to dried crusts.
- Myth: it itches from the start
Only when the blisters develop, the itching starts. Itching nuisance varies enormously. In general, the younger the child, the less itchy chicken pox.
Fact: Bumps can be all over the body and usually spread quickly
They are mainly on the body, in the face and on the scalp (between the hair). But they can also be in the mouth – the latter are extra painful. Drinking cold water and eating an ice cream provide relief. The genitals are also among the preferred locations.
Fact: the symptoms last about ten days
From the first feverish, drooping day to the day that the bumps have completely dried up. The complete healing of the scars takes longer.
7. Myth: your child is bothered by it for the full ten days
Once the blisters and bumps dry, they become scabs. This removes the itching, and with it the complaints.
8. Myth: A child is contagious the entire time it has chickenpox
Not true! Chickenpox is indeed very contagious, but ‘only’ during the following period: from two days before the bumps are visible until the moment when all blisters are (dried up and) crusted (usually no later than seven days after the blisters have formed).
Fact: There is no cure – you cannot do anything about it
That’s right. In principle, a doctor who determines that a child has chickenpox will not prescribe any medication – it is not necessary, chickenpox will go away on its own. Of course, something can be used against the itching (so that the blisters also dry out faster), everything to prevent scratching, because scratched blisters can become infected. Infected chickenpox can be recognized by redness around the chickenpox with a dirty, wet, yellow crust. If in doubt, consult your doctor. That is why it is also recommended to cut the child’s nails well and to put mittens or socks over their hands for small children at night.
Fact: Chicken pox can be dangerous in young babies
Partially correct; there are a number of groups at risk of a complicated course. Most important in this story are the cases where the mother gets chicken pox around the time of delivery . The newborn is then infected via the placenta and has not yet received any built-up antibodies from the mother. This can lead to (very) serious complications. Naturally, any infection is undesirable as a newborn. The younger the more vulnerable, so you should definitely keep a newborn away from someone with chicken pox. But if the mother has had it before the pregnancy, there is less cause for concern, because the newborn has maternal antibodies at least.