Children and Medicine

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Chickenpox February 9, 2011

Filed under: Kathleen — kfgoolsby @ 4:24 am

It’s that time: today, we are learning about the chickenpox.  There may not be a more annoying childhood disease than this one.  I am sure you all remember those awful itchy red spots.  Here is a more scientific look into what caused some of the most unpleasant days of your youth.

Chickenpox comes from the virus varicella-zoster.  As said above, it causes itchy red spots that stick around for about five to seven days.  According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, each pox goes through a cycle (uneasy stomachs beware) of, “blistering, bursting, drying, and crusting over” over the course of one to two days (Palo Alto par, 9).  This rash usually develops about one to two days after the first symptoms of fever and headache occur.  There are no cures for chickenpox but oatmeal baths can help ease the itching.

(Unhappy chickenpox sufferer in an oatmeal bath

Chickenpox is generally not very dangerous- the virus must simply run its course.  After contracting chickenpox once you will not see a rash again, but the virus can stay in your system, however, and cause shingles as an adult.  As with all diseases there is still some risk of more serious complications. Varicella is sometimes known to cause pneumonia.  A report done by Nathan Kriss in the Department of Roentgenology at the University of Virginia states that, “The incidence of varicella virus pneumonia is given as 1 to 8 per 1,000 cases of chickenpox” (par, 1).  Also, chickenpox is sometimes dangerous if a woman gets the virus during early pregnancy, which can cause birth defects (Palo Alto par, 15).

There is a strange phenomenon going on in regards to this contagious disease. The virus is passed from person to person by sharing drinks or food and breathing affected air.  Some parents think it is a good idea to purposefully give their children the disease as to make them immune for the rest of their lives, and therefore host parties to pass the virus around.  In an article from Parents PACK, a newsletter of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Kate Tovignick’s article from the New York Post entitled “Inside New York Chicken Pox Parties,” is paraphrased as follows: “Parents interviewed for the story described encouraging their children to share lollipops, cups and clothing” in attempts to get everyone in attendance infected (“Chickenpox” par, 6).  It is undetermined whether this is a sound medical practice or not.  One could say it is not a harmful idea, as it does make children naturally immune to the disease, but it also puts parents in the position of willingly making their children sick. With the invention of the vaccine in 1995 it is hard to reason why any parent would still continue on this course.  After reading up on this phenomenon I have come to the conclusion that “pox parties” are not a good idea.  The logic that truly sways me is a quote from Dr. Paul Offit of the department of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he says, “The thinking many parents have is that the natural infection is more likely to induce higher levels of antibodies and longer-lasting immunity than vaccines.  That’s generally true but the problem is if you make that choice you are also taking the risk of a natural infection, which can mean hospitalization and sometimes death” (Friedman 2).  The vaccine is a much lower dose of the virus and therefore not as harmful as contracting the natural version.

Video from CBS about chickenpox parties


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