Children’s illnesses: shingles and chicken pox

25 May 2014

In this series of articles on children’s diseases we look at everything from measles to scarlet fever. In this, the fifth article, we tell you what you need to know about shingles and chicken pox.

Shingles (herpes zoster)

Shingles occurs in elderly people and often in children, especially when their resistance to infection is low.

Spots suddenly appear on one side of the head or body and become blisters of various sizes that burst and leave raw spots that can become infected.

In adults and sometimes in children the rash is often preceded by pain, which can continue long after the rash has vanished. Shingles occurs mostly on the body but is more serious if it occurs in the eye area or ear.

It’s caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The virus can slumber in the nerve cell bodies of someone who had chicken pox months or years before. It moves along a nerve and causes a viral infection of the skin in the region of the nerve. Shingles can affect children and cause chicken pox.

The disease isn’t serious in children and paracetamol can be used to relieve the pain. The healing process is slow and a white scar may remain behind.

Damage to the cornea and facial paralysis are possible but rare complications.

Chicken pox (varicella)

Chicken pox is a common disease. It can occur at any age but is especially serious in newborn babies and often in adults, especially pregnant women.

The disease starts with a temperature and discomfort, and the severity and time span of the symptoms increase in older children and adults.

In many cases the first symptom is an itchy rash comprised of a series of spots that form small, round blisters within a few hours.

Spots then occur on the face, scalp, torso and limbs. After three to four days the blisters fill with a discharge and form scabs that dry out.

These spots can also form in the mouth, around the eyes or on the genitals. The severity can vary from a few spots to a serious rash covering the whole body.

Spots in various stages of development are typically present (red spots, blisters and blisters filled with discharge) and there are almost always a few spots on the scalp. The scabs fall off after seven to 14 days.

The spots become infected easily if they’re scratched. The virus is very infectious and is transmitted via direct contact with the saliva, mucus and blisters of an infected person.

The first signs of infection occur more than two weeks after contact, which makes it difficult to eradicate chicken pox when it breaks out in a school or hospital ward.

No treatment is necessary in nonserious cases and you don’t have to stay in bed. Calamine lotion relieves the itch and dries out the blisters.

Avoid aspirin. Treat infected spots with a disinfectant solution or, in severe cases, an antibiotic.

In exceptional cases complications such as pneumonia and meningitis can occur.

Important

Read the first article in this series about what to do if your child is feverish and when you should definitely consult a doctor.

Other childhood diseases:

  • Click here for more about measles and baby measles.
  • Click here for more about German measles and slapped cheek disease.
  • Click here for more about scarlet fever and glandular fever.
  • Click here for more about Kawasaki disease and meningococcal infection.
  • Click here for more about fever blisters and hand, foot and mouth disease.

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