Today is Day 6 of pox de poulet with Sun. I don’t want to jinx it but I think we are over the worst of it. He looks shockingly bad, covered in dark red scabby bits from top to toe, but he has gone back to nursery today and seemed to be in brighter spirits this morning than he has been for the past few days.
Despite it being a very common childhood illness it seems that there’s still a lot of confusion over the incubation and contagious periods. People appear to be divided into those wanting their children to get it so they can ‘get it over with’ and arranging ‘pox parties’ where their children can lick each other and spread the chickeny love, and those who want to keep as far away as possible from the infected.
I have to say I have leant towards being in the latter group. If something is going to make my children grumpy and stop them sleeping, and therefore make me grumpy and stop me sleeping, then I’m not rushing to invite that into our house. I understand that for the majority of cases it is mild in childhood and can often be more severe in adulthood but there’s still the slim chance that they will develop complications and being the ever so slightly neurotic mother that I am I can’t bear the thought of that happening.
Also I know you can have chicken pox more than once, I had it twice as a child, so my children having chicken pox now will not necessarily prevent them from having it again in the future. According to NHS Choices, around one in eight people diagnosed with chicken pox report having had it already.
So what about vaccinating against it like they do in the US and Japan? Well, in the UK you would have to pay to be vaccinated privately and the vaccine leads to immunity in 9 out of 10 children. I do find it a bit upsetting that I could have prevented Sun from suffering the way he has for the past few days, and prevent any possible scarring he might have, if I had vaccinated him. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though isn’t it.
For what is considered a ‘mild’ condition, it seems that the effects of chicken pox vary massively from one case to the next. When Sun came out with the first cluster of spots I ran to the pharmacy ready to throw my wallet over the counter and take anything home that would help. I read all I could find online about what has helped others as well and here was my plan of attack, in case anyone else is reading this who has just been hit by the pox:
– Piriton, or a similar antihistamine for children, given every 4 hours, or as directed, on the dot, which will ease the itching. Piriton is suitable for children 12 months and over. There’s a similar antihistamine available for children over 6 years also. I bought Piriton over the counter without a prescription but I’m sure you could get it or something similar prescribed if you can visit your GP.
– Ibruprofen and paracetamol given as directed to keep any fever under control. Paracetamol and ibruprofen can be given together alternating the two and not exceeding the maximum dosages of either if you are having problems keeping their fever under control just using one form of pain relief.
– To soothe the skin when the itch sets in you can buy all manner of lotions and potions, and you will know when this happens, Sun started rubbing himself against me on the couch as if I wouldn’t notice that he was trying to scratch his spots. You could try aloe vera gel, the type you get for insect bites and sunburn. There’s the classic calamine lotion as well as a calamine & aqueous lotion, which is easier to apply than calamine alone and less messy. There are also cooling gels like Virasoothe and a cooling mousse named PoxClin, both of which contain menthol and are quite expensive compared to the other creams but if they help your child then you probably won’t mind the extra cost. I should say that I bought both the gel and mousse for Sun and he hated them both, he didn’t like the cooling effect and would shiver and shake and say it made him too cold. I’m guessing his fever meant he already had the chills so applying something that made him feel colder wasn’t welcomed despite the relief it might have brought after application. A lot of people swear by their use though so I guess it’s an individual thing.
– Warm baths, not hot as that will make them blister more, with 2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda (much cheaper from the pharmacy than the supermarket) added to the water, along with oats tied up in a muslin cloth (ordinary porridge oats will do, not the flavoured sachets). I let Sun lay in the bath as long as he wanted topping up with a little warm water every now and then. I filled the bath with things to entertain and distract him, like plastic containers, plastic spoons and bottle lids and some of my kitchen utensils that are safe for him to use, like silicon cupcake cases and rubber spatulas, and I let him pretend to cook and bake.
– It’s important to keep them cool as much as you can as well as any heat will mean more blisters and more itching.
As soon as Sun came down with chicken pox I started thinking about who we had seen in the previous few days so I could let them know they had been exposed to the virus. I found it really confusing talking about the incubation and contagious periods as everyone seemed to have different ideas. There was also conflicting messages about whether it was ok to take Sun out and about and if not, how long I had to keep him in quarantine.
The advice I got from NHS Choices was not to take Sun out anywhere where he would be in contact with others from the point of me seeing the first spot to when they are scabbed over, which is usually about five days from the first spot appearing. They are most contagious in the two to three days before the spots appear but continue to be contagious for up to five days from the first spot.
Please don’t take your child out in this time period as there are many at risk groups who could get seriously ill or even die from contracting the chicken pox virus, as well as complications and risks for the unborn children of those women carrying babies who have not got immunity themselves. It’s a short period and a small inconvenience really when you consider the risks to others.
The incubation period, that is the time from when a person contracts the virus to when they display symptoms, is 7 to 21 days. This means that if you have come into contact with someone who either has or later develops chicken pox you have 21 days to wait before you can be sure that you haven’t contracted the virus.
I had thought that children had to be kept at home for 2 weeks when they had chicken pox but Sun’s nursery’s policy is that they have to be away for five days from the first spot appearing. They don’t take into consideration them all being scabbed over any longer. It’s worth checking with your child’s nursery or school though as it seems to vary, only adding to everyone’s confusion over when it’s safe to let them back into the world.
So according to my calculations I will remain on high alert with Shine until the 30th May. If she doesn’t have the virus by then chances are she has escaped it. I can’t find any reliable stats about the likelihood of her catching it from her brother but if anyone knows then please let me know. Seeing what my boy looks like now it is heartbreaking to look at Shine and think that her perfect, smooth baby skin might soon be ravaged by this virus.
Not sure how this turned into an information session on chicken pox, I was only sitting down to rant about how crap it is to see your children suffer from chicken pox. Still, I did find it hard to get all the information I wanted so I hope it might help someone to have it all in one place. If anyone else has any remedies they found helped please feel free to comment and share the information.
I’m off to get Sun from nursery and spend the afternoon watching him like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t pick the scabs (charming) and to monitor every whimper from Shine to analyse if I think she is about to break out in pox de poulet herself. Ah, the joy!
All the figures and statistics are from the NHS Choices section on chicken pox. I’m not a medical practitioner so please check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving your child any medications.