Healthy Advice: Do not get this chicken tonight
You itched. You scratched. You took oatmeal baths and your mother rubbed calamine lotion on you. Yes, we’re talking about chickenpox. While most of us had it as kids, some are facing the dreaded chickenpox now.
On Feb. 1, the UH Health Center announced a minor outbreak of chickenpox comprising of four cases. While chickenpox is typically considered a harmless childhood ailment, it can be dangerous and deadly to adults.
According to the National Institutes of Health, chickenpox, or the varicella zoster virus, is characterized by crimson blisters covering the body. Usually, symptoms develop within 10 to 21 days of contracting the virus. VZV is spread through airborne particles and contact with the fluid from the pustules. Individuals with the virus become contagious up to two days before the blisters bubble up and remain contagious until each sore is left a crusty remnant of its former itchy self. Other symptoms of chickenpox include fatigue and fever.
Since chickenpox is a virus, there is no option but to ride out the illness. A hands-off approach is the best way to deal with it. Oral antihistamines and hydrocortisone cream can keep a person comfortable while fighting off the infection. Battle scars are left when bacteria is introduced into the blisters through scratching. If left alone, the body will put the chickenpox to rest within 10 days.
Unfortunately, we’re not children anymore. While students who have had chickenpox are in the clear, those who have had the vaccine still need to be vigilant in protecting themselves against the virus.
In adults, VZV does not become dormant so easily, and several potentially fatal complications can develop. Some of the more common problems that occur in adults with chickenpox include dehydration and headaches. These can easily be taken care of by drinking plenty of fluids and taking aspirin.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention warns that potentially fatal side effects can accompany the pox. Complications from chickenpox include pneumonia; encephalitis, an infection or inflammation of the brain; bacterial infections of the skin, including Group A streptococcal infections; blood stream infections; toxic shock syndrome; and bone and join infections. Healthy adults who never caught the disease or receive the vaccine can suffer severe complications, and 100 to 150 people die each year of chickenpox. So, while death is rare, it is a possibility.
One dose of the vaccine is not sufficient protection against the virus. Because chickenpox is highly contagious, the Health Center warns students who had the vaccine as a child to be revaccinated to protect themselves against the presence of the virus on campus.
“We want the campus community to be aware of these cases,” said Floyd Robinson, UH health center director. “Many people assume that if they were vaccinated as a child, they don’t need the booster. Talk with your healthcare provider to determine if a second dose is recommended.”
Some other complications cannot be resolved with over-the-counter purchases.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says VZV develops into shingles in 25 percent of adults. Shingles is the recurrence of chickenpox characterized by a band of lesions around the waistline with mild to severe pain. In some individuals, further complications from shingles can lead to hearing or balance problems, as well as strokes or meningitis.
If you’re unsure about whether or not you’ve had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, contact your healthcare provider for advice as soon as possible.
Trisha Thacker is a biology junior and may be reached at [email protected]