Dr. Zainab A Malik, Consultant Paediatrician, American Board Certified in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at City Hospital, says:
Varicella infection, or chickenpox, is a common childhood disease, with more than 90 per cent of infections occurring in children younger than 10.
The infection starts with mild fever, rash and body aches. The rash is itchy, and in unvaccinated children it starts off as small fluid-filled blisters on the trunk and back, rapidly progressing to 250 to 500 spots on the entire body, including the mouth, genital areas and sometimes the eyes. Children who have received the varicella vaccine can sometimes get the infection, however, it is typically mild with minimal fever, and the rash may even be mistaken for insect bites!
Children with chickenpox are infectious from one to two days before start of rash, until all skin lesions have crusted over. During this period, they may transmit infection to others through direct contact with the skin rash, coughing, or through exhaled air droplets. Hence children with chickenpox should not be allowed back into nursery, school or public places until all their skin rash is crusted over. Although many kids with chickenpox recover uneventfully, it can sometimes cause complications: the most common include deep infections of the skin and muscles, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellitis). Children with chickenpox who are given aspirin can also develop irreversible liver damage (Reye syndrome). Chickenpox is a severe infection in adolescents, adults and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer, medications or other medical conditions, and is associated with a more frequent occurrence of complications.
Currently, it is recommended to give the chickenpox vaccine to children at one year and a booster at four to six years. A single dose of vaccine provides up to 90 per cent protection against chickenpox; this is increased to 97 per cent protection against severe infection in children who receive two doses of the vaccine. Countries that routinely vaccinate against chickenpox have seen a significant decrease in numbers of children being hospitalized or dying from complications related to chickenpox.
If your child is healthy, you may opt either to vaccinate or let him get the natural infection. However, certain children at risk for serious infection or complications from chickenpox (or who reside with a household member with a weakened immune system) should receive the chickenpox vaccination, as infection in these sub-groups could be life-threatening.
Finally, women who have never had the chickenpox infection or vaccination and are considering pregnancy should get vaccinated too, since developing chickenpox infection early during pregnancy could have serious implications for the unborn baby.