Xref: helios.physics.utoronto.ca misc.answers:874 news.answers:28811
Subject: Chicken Pox FAQ
Date: 7 Sep 1994 09:17:02 -0400
Organization: Emory University, Dept of Math and CS
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Misc.kids Frequently Asked Questions
Collection maintained by: Vicki Powers firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: 7/20/94
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Contents: I. Chicken pox in children and remedies
II. Chicken pox in adults and the use of Acyclovir
I. CHICKEN POX IN CHILDREN AND REMEDIES
The best treatment is supposed to be Aveeno oatmeal baths
in combination with Aveeno's Super Anti-Itch cream. Calamine
lotion runs second to the Anti-Itch cream. Caladryl is usually
not recommended due to the danger of an overdose of Benedryl
(diphenhydramine) from absorption through the skin, although
oral Benedryl is given. Studies have shown that Tylenol
(acetaminophen) does not shorten and may lengthen the time it
takes to recover, possibly by one full day. I'd use it anyway if it
made the child more comfortable. Aspirin must not be given to
children and teenagers suspected of having chicken pox due to
the risk of Reye's syndrome.
The patient is contagious from 24 hours before the first pock
appears until one week after the last new spot has scabbed
over. The incubation period is 7 to 21 days after exposure.
There is approximately a 70% chance that a non-immune
child will catch the disease if fully exposed.
Both my kids (2.75 and 1.5) got it at the same time this
year (May 1994). My son was a day ahead of my daughter
(the youngest) so I could tell what was coming with her
since she had identical symptoms. By far the worse were
the ones in their mouths. I made frozen juice pops which
they seemed to like (no help on the pox, of course ;-).
I used Aveeno baths, regular oatmeal (food processed and
soaked in tub in old nylon) baths, aveeno anti-itch CREAM
(not lotion) (BEST). Tried Benedryl with both but my normally
average reacting kids both went bonkers and were up half
the night. Calamine just annoyed them both...I think since
mine are so young, they are fascinated with getting off
pink stuff so it never stayed on long enough.
One thing I did do (don't tell the kids!) is fill up the
outside kiddie pool with slightly warm (from the hot
water tap) water and then mixed in Aveeno oatmeal bath
packets. Great trick! Played for 20-30 minutes whereas
tub baths were fought after the first two each day. ;-)
The really BAD times (days 2-6) were virtually sleepless
for me and them, but on the 6th night they
were both over it. They slept 15 hours that first night.
I, of course, expected to have to wake up, so was up every hour. :-(
-Cathe Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
When my kids had chicken pox, I used alternating Aveeno
and baking soda baths. What might be a little different was
I filled the tub with the Aveeno or soda then left the water
in so my kids could hop in and out when ever they felt itchy.
I need to say that my kids are 7 & 9 and are okay to leave
alone in the tub; this wouldn't work with preschoolers.
Morning was Aveeno, in the afternoon, baking soda, then
Aveeno again. They would hop in for 5 - 10 mins., hop out,
then back in again later. This seemed to keep them happier
and was easier for me.
My son had chicken pox when he was 16-1/2 months old,
and his case was extremely mild. He had painful lesions
in his mouth for about 1-1/2 days, but after they healed,
the other pox on his body (they weren't as plentiful as I
had expected) didn't seem to bother him at all. So, we spent
about 2 days worrying, because he wouldn't eat or drink
anything and was inconsolable except when watching
Disney's "The Jungle Book". We must have seen that video
25 times during his 2 tough days. Absolutely nothing else
would placate him! (Usually, he only gets to see one video
per day, plus 1/2 hour of Sesame Street.) Anyway, the
tough part was waiting for the scabs to dry out, which was
the sign that he was no longer contagious. I think the
chicken pox was worse for us than for him, since I got cabin
fever long before he did! Oh, he weaned himself from the
breast during his illness, since it was painful for him to suck;
if he hadn't had chicken pox then, I have no idea if/when he
would have decided to wean (he was down to only one
morning nursing at that point).
Diane C. Lin "Live now; make *now* always the
email@example.com most precious time. Now will
(Dylan's mom, 2 years) never come again." (ST:TNG)
Spring the big bucks for the Aveeno Super Anti-Itch lotion,
rather than calamine. It costs about $6 per bottle, rather
than $1.50 for calamine, but it is WORTH IT! My son had
a very bad case - about 75 pox on his head alone. The
Aveeno lotion you just rub all over, rather than having to
"dot" the pox. (In his case, it was almost the same thing,
because the pox almost touched everywhere!) He healed
much faster than his friend Emily, who had a lighter case.
Even the ones on his palms and the soles of his feet healed
quickly. The longest ones to heal, that bothered him the
most, were the ones in his hair where we didn't rub the lotion.
My 5yo just went through these at Christmas, and several
of hers were around the vaginal area. By FAR the biggest
difference was made by the oral Benadryl. She was
psychologically addicted to the Benadryl with one dose! And
this from a kid who hated to take medicine before, no matter
how it tasted, and she didn't like the taste. It was a
VERY DRAMATIC difference, there was almos no itching/pain
left after Benadryl.
Anne Hill Wiebe * When in danger, or in doubt,
Center for Space Research, UT Austin * Run in circles,
(firstname.lastname@example.org) or * Scream and shout!
email@example.com *Mom to Elizabeth, newly six!
If you are using benedryl and it doesn't seem to work call
your pediatrician and ask him/her about atarax. When my
youngest had CP it worked wonders.
Mom to Ricky 11/28/74 and Destiny 8/1/82
When my daughter got chicken pox in her vaginal area, we
ended up using an anesthestic spray to kill the pain. I asked
at the pharmacy, and they sold me a can. It was the same
kind of thing women use after episiotomies. It helped kill
the pain and the spray itself was very cooling.
Friends of mine have used a hemirroid cream that has an
anesthetic. Preparation H does not. I think there is one
called Anusol or something. That's what their doctor
recommended. Makes sense to me.
Marion Baumgarten MARION10@delphi.com
My pediatrician explained it to me this way:
The severity of the case has something to do with the length
of exposure. If the child is only exposed for a short period
of time while the other child is contagious, they will have
a lighter case. (ie, an hour playdate, or during sunday
school, or a random grouping during school). A longer
exposure will cause a more severe case. This is why the
second and subsequent siblings to get CP usually have a
worse case - they are exposed to a contageous child for
hours or days.
This was certainly borne out by our experience - Brad got
chicken pox from his daycare buddy. Emily had a mild
case and didn't need a lot of etra parental attention, so
her Mom (my daycare provider) didn't mind having Brad
come anyway. I figured he had already been exposed,
so why not send him (rather than use my leave both while
Emi was sick and when he inevitably got them.) Brad had
a HORRIBLE case.
Mom to Brad, 3.5, and Carrie, 21 months
Laura McGinnis at Accounts, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, PA
Mickey (4 yrs) had chicken pox last week. Margee (21 months)
is due to break out this Friday (great Easter, huh!). I have to
thank the bboard, which was here for me last Sunday, to scan
for support and suggestions, and Barbara White in particular
for the best suggestion for dealing with this.
She posted about the "oatmeal snakes" she made for her son.
Figuring I'll be going through this twice, I cut the legs off an
old pair of pantihose, filled each with a couple of cups of
oatmeal, and tied the open end shut. Mickey used his in a warm
bath every evening for 5 days. After his bath, I painted each
spot with a little calamine lotion. He broke out on Saturday &
was back to school on Friday, looking terrible, but feeling fine.
He didn't scratch while he was contagious, but he has a
tendency now to pick at the scabs. The ones on his body - that
were painted with calamine - aren't bad, but the ones in his
hair are pretty nasty. I'm taking a fairly stiff brush through
his hair once or twice a day & that's helping to get the scabs
out after they fall off.
I have to confess that we did a very materialistic thing, too.
On Sunday, when we were sure it was chicken pox, I went
to the toy store & picked out a week's worth of small toys.
I felt a bit guilty & indulgent, but the "new toy/day" did help
keep him from scratching. I think distraction may be a big
part of it. He didn't just lay around watching TV; when he
felt like playing, he had some new goodies to play with & when
he got sleepy he could rest.
>From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Ellen Stier)
Well, first, good luck :)
I'm sure you'll get lots of help, but here's my 2 cents, based
on my sample of one (my son had chicken pox just after his
>1. It sounds like the scalp is the worst place to have the scabs. Would
>anyone consider a crew cut before they come (I'd wait till he was
>definitely sick to be sure). Our last babysitter was SHOCKED that
>Nathan had never had a haircut/crewcut because, "you have to cut it to
>make it come in thicker." (She's from Slovakia) So, maybe he should
>get his first haircut now. He has such beautiful hair though :(
I think is a typical YMMV issue. My son has medium length
hair, very fine in texture, but lots of it. (Definitely not a
crew cut, but also definitely not "long"). He had LOTS of
scabs in his hair and I didn't even realize it until they started
hardening and peeling off when I combed his hair. They
didn't seem to bother him at all -- I never once saw him
scratch his head.
So, anyway, I would not get him a haircut now if you weren't
planning on it anyway. I would also put off anything new
and possibly "hard to deal with" until he's over the chicken
pox. He may be pretty irritable for a few days!
>3. Nathan got eczema last week and the Ped told us to use over-the-counter
>hydrocortisone on the rash. This is for itching and burning. Why
>haven't I seen it's use mentioned for chicken pox?
The explanation I got for this is that it's too easy to overdose
a small child with the amount it would take to cover all the
open sores with chicken pox. We had adequate relief with a
combination of oatmeal baths (the expensive Aveeno kind,
I'm afraid) and letting him paint (warm) calamine lotion all
over himself with Qtips. (I warmed it in the microwave
because when it was cold and wet it really sent him off the
deep end! I think his skin was hypersensitive by then).
>4. Given that he has these eczema bumps all over him to confuse things,
>what specifically should I be looking for as a first sign of C-pox?
If Nathan really does have chicken pox, you'll be surprised
in a few days that you asked this! The pox are truly "watery",
as my books described them. You will look at them and
wonder how come they don't just pop (then, of course, they
will, and then the itchy part starts). Also, they seem to hit
the torso first.
The only other thing "I wish I knew" is that the pox on the face
are the most likely to scar because there are so many bacterias
present around your mouth and nose. My son John only has
one scar out of lots and lots of pox -- right next to his nose. I
thought it was because he kept running into it with his hand
being around his face eating, rubbing his nose, etc., and picking
at it. His pediatrician says it's because it was really a little
infected because of the facial bacteria, and that's why it took
longer to heal.
Hope it goes well.
Ellen M. Stier, Computer Science Dept.
California Polytechnic State University
II. CHICKEN POX IN ADULTS AND THE USE OF ACYCLOVIR
Acyclovir (Zovirax) can prevent a bad case of chicken pox
in an adult. It *must* be started within twelve *hours* of
the first symptom in order to be effective. If started prior
to the first symptom, it can allow seroconversion
(to chicken-pox immune) without a single symptom! This
requires finding a sympathetic doctor. Acyclovir is an
extremely safe drug as long as you drink a reasonable
amount (or more) of water. There is no good reason not to
give it to a chicken-pox-susceptible adult. Chicken Pox in
adults is quite a serious matter, in comparison to childhood
chicken pox. Complications requiring hospitalization are not rare.
Okay, this is really not well known. We have one instance
here where somebody, a scientist in the field, tried it and
it worked. He had been proven to be chicken-pox-susceptible
by a blood test beforehand. The bit about reducing the
severity if taken within twelve hours of the first symptom is
well-known and has been reported on in several journals,
besides happening to a close friend of mine, and Kathleen
Riggle's husband, Dave (both on my suggestion after doing
a MedLine search).
It is possible to test an individual's blood for immunity to
chicken pox. This test may cost between $40 and $80. It
might be worth it, especially for a pregnant woman who
thinks she's never had the disease. Chicken pox contracted
during pregnancy can harm the fetus, in perhaps 1 or 2%
of all such cases.
Acyclovir is not as useful in children, and is used only for
children with immune problems.
A chicken pox vaccine exists but has not been released.
Chicken pox is not sufficiently dangerous in children to
require one, and there is the fear that the protection may
wear off by adulthood, leaving one open for a much worse
case. Adult booster shots could presumably take care of
this problem, but the last I heard, the vaccine was not being
distributed except to children with immune difficulties.
I contracted chicken pox a year and a half ago. It was awful.
It's much easier for children. I really envied my half-siblings,
who got it from me, who got through it so much easier than I did.
Personal complains aside, I was astonished to find how
many people didn't know whether they had had it or not as
children! (I phoned people to warn them, etc.) It turned out
that all of them had, or at least they didn't catch it from me
for some reason. The only people who caught it from me
were my two brothers and my two half-siblings. Obviously,
there was a correlation between my brothers and I all not
having had it as children, and my half-siblings were of
ages 5 and 3.
The incubation period is something like two weeks, so don't
jump to any false early conclusions that someone didn't get it.
In Canada, the drug 'acyclovir' is used to soften the impact
of chicken pox. I was prescribed acyclovir. I don't know if
this is used elsewhere.
Alan J Rosenthal
The drug is acyclovir. I'm taking it now since I'm recovering
from chicken pox at the ripe old age of 42. My daughter
came down with it three weeks ago. We put her on acyclovir
too, since Lindsay suffers from a serious chonic disease.
Lindsay was back in nursery school in 5 days, never had a
fever and it didn't slow her down for a minute. I, on the
other hand had 103 fever for 4 days, although I'm sure I
would be much sicker without the acyclovir. By the way there
is a blood test which will show if your husband has any
immunity to varcella zoster. He might want to have it done,
just to know for sure. I had the blood test a few years ago
and it confirmed that I had no immunity.
Marlene Stern email@example.com
We used Acyclovir with our twin daughters, and had extremely
good results. However, it is somewhat controversial, and our
story may be instructive. We had heard about its use (which
must begin within the first 24 hours after the disease is in
evidence) and so asked our HMO (Harvard Health) if they
would prescribe it. The initial answer was that it only
shortened the period of symptoms (true) and eased them
somewhat (a lot, in our experience), and was expensive
(also true), and so they do not prescribe Acyclovir. They
offered to have the pediatrician on duty call, though, and
when she did, after affirming that the drug is safe and has
been around for a good while, we said we'd like to try it,
and she agreed. We tend to be extremely conservative
about the use of nonrequired drugs with out children, but
the benefits, and the lack of danger, made it seem worth
using. Yet another benefit, by the way, is that it severely
restricts the potential for permanent scarring.
All this began on Friday evening. On Monday morning we
got a followup call from our very level-headed pediatrician,
a woman we have a great deal of respect for. When she
learned we had used Acyclovir, she hit the roof. She strongly
opposes its use, for two reasons: it's a strong anti-viral drug
(specifically, an anti-herpes drug--Chicken Pox being a
herpes virus), and she felt without an extensive track record,
it should not be used with children otherwise in good health.
Secondly, it's not certain whether complete immunity will be
conferred if the drug is used--it's likely that it will, but not
yet proven. And you certainly don't want to get a second
outbreak of Chicken Pox as an adult.
With those objections in mind, we had to decide whether we
would use the drug on our second daughter, who was
guaranteed to get a (much worse) case ten days or so after
her prolonged exposure to her twin sister. I looked up the
research in the New England Journal of Medicine, where the
first results were reported--both the report itself, and the
rebuttal several months later. Having read it and thought
about it, with some misgiving, we decided to use it on our
second daughter too. Our reasoning went this way: even
with treatment, our first daughter's case was bad enough--we
didn't want to make our second daughter suffer through a
triply worse case if not necessary. Secondly, we had given
about half the dose that the study used, and it still clipped
the course of the disease by at least several days, kept the
period of fever much shorter, and stopped new eruptions
by the end of the second day. More importantly, we figured
that the long-awaited vaccine would answer any danger of
second outbreak in adulthood if indeed there proves to be
such a danger. Finally, we felt pretty confident the drug
itself, especially in the doses we had used, is likely to be safe.
Our second daughter indeed broke out with a very severe
case (we stopped counting her chicken pox at 200, and there
were areas that were so densely covered you couldn't tell
where one ended and the next began). We used exactly the
same treatment with her as with our first, and had the same
results: the itchiness was not nearly so bad, the eruptions
stopped very quickly, she felt bad for only about a day, very
few of the spots, though many in number, even got bad
enough to crust over, and she was completely well by day
four. (The last of her spots were completely gone in about
two or three weeks.)
With a vaccine, none of this will matter for other parents before
long; in the meantime, if you want to consider the use of Acyclovir,
I'd just suggest you read the reports in New England Journal of
Medicine yourself (I'm a complete lay person, and it's quite
readable) and discuss it with your pediatrician in advance. Once
your child's outbreak has begun, you won't have enough time to
make a careful decision.
I don't have any experience with chicken pox in kids. But I
would like to add some info for adults.
My husband got chicken pox from work couple years ago (pre-kids).
He had a mild case and was miserable with flu-like symptoms for
a week. However, a friend of mine's two kids got it from day-care
first. Then her husband got it and he was in so much pain she
had to rush him to the emergency room. Apparently when an
adult gets it, it can be internal as well as external. In her
husband case, he got it inside his throat and stomach and he felt
like "his chest is on fire". He had to live on Gatorade (sp?) only
for a few days.
Mom to Christine, 17 mo
AUTHOR(s): Dunkle, L.M.
TITLE(s): A Controlled Trial of Acyclovir for Chicken-pox in
In: The new england journal of medicine.
NOV 28 1991 v 325 n 22
Note: there is likely a second NEJM article and it MAY be in
this same issue
AUTHOR(s): Leardi, Jeanette
TITLE(s): Chicken pox: Tips on handling this early spring malady.
In: Parents' guide. (With Sesame Street Magazine)
MAR 01 1991
TITLE(s): Drug Clears Chicken Pox Spots: Doctors find a drug that can
prevent disfiguring scars left over from chicken pox
In: Current science.
NOV 02 1990 v 76 n 5
AUTHOR(s): Karlsrud, Katherine
TITLE(s): Birth to 1: Chicken-Pox Update.
MAY 01 1991 v 66 n 5
Vicki Powers | When a student reads in a math book that there are no
Emory University | absolutes, suddenly every value he's been taught is
Dept of Math and CS | destroyed. And the next thing you know, the student
Atlanta, GA 30322 | turns to crime and drugs. - Mel Gabler