Coping with Chicken Pox

What's red and contagious and itches all over? You guessed it. Chicken pox seems to be a childhood rite of passage. The common varicella zoset (chicken pox) virus causes an itchy blister-like skin rash that covers a child's face, scalp and trunk. It is accompanied by fever, headache, fatigue and a loss of appetite.

David Hartenbach, M.D., St. Louis Children's Hospital pediatrician, advises parents faced with red-spotted, feverish but otherwise healthy children to wait out chicken pox with proven home remedies of Tylenol, calamine lotion and an over-the-counter antihistamine.

"Parents should call their pediatrician when symptoms of chicken pox arrive. But we advise against bringing children into the office because of the contagious nature of the condition," Dr. Hartenbach says. "The acetaminophen in Tylenol reduces their fever. Calamine lotion, the antihistamine in Benadryl and a cool bath relieve their itching. A little ice cream revives their spirits. The worst will be over in about four days."

After those initial four days, children with normal chicken pox stop experiencing eruptions of the telltale red bumps. The fever clears, as the bumps progress to thin-walled water blisters. When all of the blisters crust over, children are no longer contagious and can go back to their normal activities. Siblings will often come down with chicken pox within about 7 to 21 days. The second case in a family usually has many more chicken pox bumps than the first. Pregnant women who have not had the virus should avoid children with chicken pox because of the risk of passing the virus on to the fetus.

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