It is summer time in the Philippines and along with the summer fun comes summer diseases and infections. Chickenpox, called Bulutong tubig in Tagalog and Tuko in Ilocano is on the rampage this time of the year in the Philippines. This highly contagious viral infection caused by a herpes virus called Varicella Zoster, is viciously ravaging kids and some adults, spoiling the summer fun. In some countries, chickenpox is common in winter or early spring time.
My niece Richie had contracted tuko and had been missing her ballet classes for more than a week now. And she doesn’t want to talk to us over video skype because she doesn’t want us to see her with her blisters and wounds all over her face. “Don’t look at me, I’m ugly”, had been her excuse for being camera shy for the previous days. And she often gets mad at her Tita Kristine every time she teases her calling her “ugly girl”. I had my own share of going through the same itchy and painful bulutong tubig ordeal when I was in college, I was 18 or19 yrs old at that time. Good thing that I only had 1 or 2 blisters on my face but the scars are still visible up to now.
The Department of Health in the Philippines had issued warnings and advice to the general public to be wary against chickenpox specially to those who are pregnant to avoid risk of complications.
Good news is that chickenpox can already be prevented through vaccination. Vaccination against Varicella Zoster is already available for both children and adults in most countries like in Singapore including in the Philippines.. The chickenpox vaccine is safe and effective in protecting those who have never had chickenpox and is expected to provide life-long immunity.
Here are some helpful information regarding chickenpox (source : Singapore’s Health Promotion Board – http://www.hpb.gov.sg )
Causes & risk factors
1) Chickenpox is caused by a herpes virus called Varicella Zoster. It is highly contagious and spreads from person to person by direct contact, or by droplets from an infected person when he coughs or sneezes. It can also spread indirectly through articles freshly soiled by droplets or fluid from the blisters of an infected person. The scabs however are not considered infectious.
2) One can get chickenpox within 10 to 21 days after contact with an infected person. An infected person is usually infectious one or two days before the rash appears until about a week later when the spots have stopped forming and are dried.
3) Once you have had chickenpox, you are immune to the disease and are very unlikely to catch it again. The virus particles remain dormant in your nervous system. However, it can, at a later stage, cause shingles.
Signs, symptoms & Complications
1) Fever, together with red spots, on the body and face. The spots appear over a few days and progress from being red spots to blisters which eventually burst, dry up and form crusts before healing. These spots are usually itchy and may leave scars when scratched.
2) Possible complications of chickenpox infection includes:
– Skin infection such as sores becoming more red, swollen, or tender
– Dehydration due to frequent vomiting or refusal to drink. The person will pass urine less often, feel drowsy, have a dry mouth and lips, and be very thirsty
– Brain damage from encephalitis, which may present with severe headache, stiff neck and back, confusion, irritability, or excessive drowsiness
– Pneumonia characterized by coughing, wheezing, breathing difficulty, and chest pain
– Arthritis characterized by joint pain, stiffness and swelling.
1) Chickenpox is usually considered a mild disease among healthy children so treatment is directed at reducing the itch and discomfort. Children with chickenpox should not receive aspirin because of the possibility of causing a complication called Reye’s syndrome which is a very serious illness causing liver and brain damage.
2) There are Anti-viral medications than can be used to treat chickenpox which are most effective when taken within the first 24 hours of developing the illness. They reduce the severity and duration of chickenpox, as well as reduce the likelihood of complications. Most children do not need them. Most adults would benefit from them if taken early enough, especially those who have impaired immunity as they are more susceptible to severe chickenpox.
1) Avoid scratching as it can cause scarring and it also increases the risk of bacterial infection.
2) Take cool baths to help relieve itching especially for children. Also, dabbing the spots with calamine lotion may help relieve the itching.
3) Seek immediate medical attention if the following conditions occur:
— The rash spreads to one or both eyes.
– The rash gets very red, warm or tender indicating a possible secondary bacterial skin infection.
— The rash is accompanied by dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, tremors, loss of muscle coordination, worsening cough, vomiting, stiff neck or high fever.