Prevent chickenpox: get out in the sun
LONDON, ENGLAND - Chickenpox is one of the classic childhood diseases. The virus that causes the disease is varicella-zoster, a member of the herpes virus family. The same virus also causes herpes zoster (shingles) in adults. A child or adult with chickenpox may develop hundreds of itchy, fluid-filled blisters that burst and form crusts. A typical case is that of a young child whose body is covered with blisters and is out of school for about a week. The first half of the week the child feels miserable from intense itching; the second half from boredom. Since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine, classic chickenpox is much less common. The vaccine usually prevents the chickenpox disease completely or makes the illness very mild. Even those with mild illness may be contagious.
Most cases of chickenpox occur in children younger than 10. The disease is usually mild, although serious complications sometimes occur. Adults and older children usually get sicker than younger children do. Chickenpox is readily transmitted between individuals. It can be acquired by touching the fluids from a chicken pox blister or by someone nearby coughing or sneezing.
According to a recent study, one of the best ways to stop the spread of the disease is by getting out in the sun. The study notes that sun exposure also can reduce the spread of chickenpox’s more dangerous relative, shingles.
Dr. Phil Rice, a virologist at St, George’s Hospital, University of London is of the opinion that the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays inactivate the chickenpox virus on the skin before it can be transmitted to another individual. Supporting this theory is the fact that the disease spreads less readily in tropical areas. Dr. Rice presented his views in the Virology Journal. He presented data that revealed that chickenpox is much less common in parts of the globe with high levels of UV rays compared with areas are low, and why in temperate zones, the disease peaks in winter and spring, when UV rays are at their lowest.
Although children usually recover from chicken pox in about a week, parents should be aware that aspirin has been associated with a serious condition called Reyes Syndrome. In addition, ibuprofen (Advil) has been associated with more severe secondary infections. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be used instead of either aspirin or ibuprofen.
After one recovers from a case of chickenpox, the virus remains inactive (becomes dormant) in certain nerves in the body. Shingles (herpes zoster) occurs after the virus becomes active again in these nerves years later. The result is a painful, blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus. The reason the virus suddenly become active again is unclear; however, after one recovers from shingles, it usually does not recur. Shingles may develop in any age group; however, it is more likely to occur in individuals who are older than 60, were infected with chickenpox before the age of one, or have a compromised immune system.
The first symptom of shingles is usually one-sided pain, tingling, or burning. The pain and burning may be severe and is usually present before any rash appears. Red patches on the skin, followed by small blisters, form in most people. The blisters break, forming small ulcers that begin to dry and form crusts. The crusts fall off in two to three weeks. Scarring is rare. The rash usually involves a narrow area from the spine around to the front of the abdomen or chest. The rash may involve face, eyes, mouth, and ears. Antiviral medication may reduce spread and promote healing.
Sometimes, the pain in the area where the shingles occurred may persist for months or years. This pain is called postherpetic neuralgia. It occurs when the nerves have been damaged after an outbreak of shingles. Pain ranges from mild to very severe pain. It is more likely to occur in individuals over 60 years of age. Other complications may include: blindness (if shingles infects the eye); deafness, including encephalitis or sepsis (blood infection) in persons with weakened immune systems; bacterial skin infections; or Ramsay Hunt syndrome if shingles affects the nerves in the face (the syndrome can result in damage to the facial nerves).