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Question: My 5 year old has just broken out in chickenpox today. I know it is a common childhood condition but beyond calamine lotion I have no idea how to treat it. Also, what warning signs should I look for?

DR.PAUL: To answer your question, let me give you some facts about chicken pox, its symptoms, treatment potential complications and prevention. Chickenpox is caused by the Varicella virus and is transmitted from person to person through respiratory secretions and the liquid in the chickenpox vesicles(blisters or bubbles). It takes up to 2 weeks to get the disease once exposed to it, children are contagious for about 2 days before the rash breaks out and are considered contagious until all of the blisters have dried out. Children can be irritable and have fever, but the main symptom is the rash which is vesicular (like a blister).  There can be as little as one or two lesions or the whole body can be covered including the genitalia, and the rash tends to be itchy. Complications of chicken pox include bacterial infection of the rash, pneumonia, and very rarely, inflammation of the brain. Chickenpox tends to be more serious in older individuals. As for treatment, it is really symptomatic with calamine lotion and acetaminophen for fever, NOTE TO NEVER USE ASPIRIN. It is not unusual to have a decrease in appetite....just make sure that they are drinking enough. People with weakened immune systems, or those taking medications that may weaken their immune system, are at risk for severe infections with chickenpox. For these circumstances, there is a specific medication that can be given to help prevent chicken pox complications. In general, the illness takes its course and the rash starts to dry by the 3-4th day. The scars may take up to several weeks to clear completely. If you see an area of redness that is getting bigger around any of the spots this may be a sign of bacterial infection that needs antibiotic treatment. Also, if the child has an associated cough that is not getting better, his has to be checked out too. Finally, if the child seems to be more sleepy or lethargic or has difficulty with his/her balance or seems to be confused, this needs immediate medical attention. Again these are very rare complications. Now there is a very effective vaccine for chickenpox available for administration during the first year of life or to anyone (any age) who has not had chickenpox.

Click here for more information on chickenpox in children.

Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child's physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.

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