Barbadians are being advised to take the necessary precautions against complications of chicken pox as there has been an increase in the number of cases recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and polyclinics across the island.
This was revealed today by Senior Medical Officer of Health (North), Dr. Karen Springer, who said that 47 cases of the disease were reported over the past five weeks. She noted that this was almost eight times as many cases were reported as compared to the corresponding period last year.
Chicken pox is an acute, infectious disease which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It may initially begin with cold-like symptoms, followed by a high temperature and an intensely itchy, vesicular (fluid-filled blister-like) rash. Clusters of vesicular spots appear over three to five days, mostly over the trunk and more sparsely over the limbs. It is most commonly seen in children under 10-years-old. The severity of infection varies and it is possible for a person to be infected but not showing symptoms.
According to Dr. Springer, “chicken pox is a viral infection that will not respond to antibiotics, and treatment should be based on reducing symptoms such as fever and itchiness.”
While noting that persons may turn to home treatments, Dr. Springer said parents could do several things at home to help relieve their children’s chicken pox symptoms. “Scratching the blisters may cause them to become infected, so keep your child’s fingernails trimmed short,” she urged.
The senior Medical officer suggested that Calamine Lotion and Oatmeal baths may help to relieve some of the itching and advised individuals not to use aspirin or aspirin-containing products to relieve a child’s fever.
“The use of aspirin in children with chicken pox has been associated with development of Reye’s syndrome (a severe disease affecting all organs, but most
seriously affecting the liver and brain which may cause death). Use non-aspirin medications such as Panadol,” she suggested.
Dr. Springer stressed that if a child with chicken pox acquired a fever lasting longer than four days and with a tendency to rise above 102ºF, a medical doctor should be contacted. “If the individual with chicken pox seems extremely ill, is difficult to wake up or appears confused, has difficulty walking, has a stiff neck, is vomiting repeatedly, has difficulty breathing, or has a severe cough, a doctor should be called immediately,” she advised.
The senior Medical Officer also added that a medical practitioner should be called “if any area of the rash or any part of the body becomes very red, warm, or tender, or begins leaking pus (thick, discolored fluid), since these symptoms may indicate a bacterial infection”.
While the disease occurs throughout the year in most countries, it is most common during the winter months.
Dr. Springer also noted that children can be protected from chicken pox by getting the chicken pox (varicella) vaccine. In Barbados, this is presently available mainly from private pediatricians.