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10 Facts About Chickenpox

10 Facts About Chickenpox

Nursery - or 'germery' as it's more accurately known - has had an outbreak of chicken pox, so Marianna's at home scratching. I've had chickenpox and shingles already but, even so, all I'm doing is scratching alongside, like my skin remembers it or something!

Whatever the reason, it certainly calls for a listicle of ten things you might not know about chickenpox.

1. Chickenpox is an airborne virus, primarily spread via coughs and sneezes. But don't think you can escape it with a face mask - you can also get it by touching mucus, saliva, or fluid from the blister of an infected individual.

2. It's caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), otherwise known as human alphaherpesvirus 3 - one of the eight herpes viruses known to infect humans. After you recover the virus goes dormant... but in about 15% of people it reactivates in later life and causes shingles. An unlucky 5% of shingles sufferers will even go on to have it more than once.

3. Although it's usually a relatively mild childhood affliction, in some cases chickenpox can be fatal. In 2015 6,400 people died as a result, that's about 1 person for every 60,000 bouts of chickenpox contracted.

4. The virus is generally worse for adults than children, but it is most dangerous to pregnant women. Chickenpox contracted in the third trimester is linked to premature delivery, while catching it earlier on can cause malformation and brain damage in the fetus.

5. The first chickenpox vaccine was developed in the late 1960s by Dr. Michiaki Takahashi. He was inspired to look into a vaccine after his three-year-old son Teruyuki contracted a bad case of chickenpox in 1964. By 1972 it was in clinical trial, and was cleared for widespread use in 1974.

Chickenpox Infographic UK
Check out this awesome infographic in full at Alphega Pharmacy.

6. Some countries - Australia, Germany, Japan, USA, etc - now routinely vaccinate against it, usually by combining it into the MMR jab. Since the USA introduced the vaccine in 1995, cases of chickenpox there have fallen by 95%. In the UK only those who live or work in close quarters with people without a fully-working immune system are vaccinated on the grounds that, although it may reduce cases of childhood chicken pox, it could mean a rise in adult shingles which is both expensive to treat and horrid to have.

7. You can pay to have your children vaccinated privately however, and you can even get it done on the high street at some Superdrug health clinics. (Two doses at £65 a pop.)

8. For the rest of us the best treatment is calamine lotion which helps to soothe the skin. Other options include wearing mittens to stop yourself scratching, applying cold compresses soaked in chamomile tea, or taking in a bath in water mixed with baking soda or oatmeal. Modern medicine at its best!

9. Until the late 19th century it was thought that chickenpox was a milder form of the more serious smallpox, which in turn was so named to distinguish it from the 'greatpox' (syphilis).

10. Nobody seem to really know where the name chickenpox came from. Its first recorded use dates back to 1658 and Samuel Johnson, of A Dictionary of the English Language fame, suggested that it was because it was a mild (so chicken in the sense of cowardly) illness. Alternative theories include a corruption of itchingpox, or that chicken was used to mean child/children. Anthony told our own daughter it's because the spots are feathers sprouting where she will turn into a chicken. He will be the one footing the therapy bill...

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