Understanding Chicken Pox

chicken pox

Chicken Pox used to be a common childhood disease; more than 95% of American adults have had it. In the early 1990s, four million people got this disease every year. Since the vaccine against chickenpox was introduced in 1995, fewer children are getting it. 

Chicken pox is a very contagious disease caused by a virus. It shows up as a rash of tiny blisters — as many as 500 may be visible on one person — and symptoms like fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and headache. A bad case of the chicken pox may lead to complications like pneumonia, encephalitis, dehydration, or sepsis.

It is possible for a vaccinated person to catch chicken pox, but it is very rare. Breakthrough cases are likely to be very mild. Also, people who have had the disease are usually immune to it. 

The history of chicken pox

Why is it called chicken pox? It’s a pox, like smallpox, because that was once the term used for diseases that caused a rash. Syphilis was known as the “Great Pox” and then there was the small pox, and finally, as Samuel Johnson explained in his 1755 dictionary, the chicken pox which was called after chickens because of “its being of no very great danger.”

Contrary to this suggestion that it was just a measly, wimpy little pox, of the four million people who caught chicken pox annually before the vaccine was developed, 13,000 could expect to go to the hospital and 100 might die. 

The vaccine was introduced in 1995, and by 2014, about 91% of young children had been vaccinated. Outbreaks declined by 78% by 2012. This means that your child probably doesn’t have chicken pox. 

However, parents who remember having this uncomfortable disease may see a rash on their kids and jump to the conclusion that they’re seeing chicken pox.

Should you call the doctor?

If you think your child has chicken pox, don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician. While chicken pox often goes away on its own without medical treatment, adults may catch the disease from children, and it can be serious in grownups. Therefore, you will want to confirm that your child has chicken pox and make sure he or she doesn’t get in close contact with adults who might not have had the disease before. 

However, if your child has been vaccinated, they probably don’t have chicken pox. It could be a reaction to a medication or to poison ivy. Your pediatrician can usually determine the cause of the problem with an examination.

The good news is that, thanks to vaccinations, chicken pox is yet another childhood disease that most parents won’t have to worry about.

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