Recently, hospitals in Bengaluru have reported an increase in the number of children seeking medical attention for chickenpox and measles. Interestingly, some of the cases are showing up despite being vaccinated.
According to data from the Department of Health, there have been a total of 14 outbreaks in the last four months in the state, with 266 cases reported.
However, officials from the department clarified that chickenpox is usually clinically diagnosed and it is not typically confirmed in a lab.
It is commonly known as “amma” in Karnataka and is a self-limiting viral infection and, hence, not many seek a lab test to confirm it.
Chickenpox in Bengaluru
Speaking to South First, Dr Brunda MS, Consultant, Internal Medicine, at Aster CMI Hospital in Bengaluru, said that there has been an increasing trend in the number of chickenpox and measles cases over the past few days.
“While these diseases were once thought to be on the decline, we are seeing a resurgence among both adults and children,” she said.
She expressed concern as it poses a significant threat to public health. Among adults, those with diabetes mellitus are immunocompromised and are, thus, more prone to such diseases, she added.
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Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral disease common in children and caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
Dr Yogesh Kumar Gupta, Consultant, Paediatrics, at Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, said, “Chickenpox spreads via droplets, fomites and infected secretions from the vesicles. So, following respiratory hygiene and hand-washing prevents one from getting the disease.”
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?
The increase in chickenpox cases among children can be attributed to several factors, including the highly contagious nature of the virus and the lack of vaccination coverage in some communities.
Additionally, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many families have been staying indoors, leading to decreased exposure to the virus and weakened immune systems.
Doctors explained that the symptoms of chickenpox and measles can be uncomfortable and distressing for children, which is why it is essential to seek medical attention if your child develops symptoms.
Symptoms of chickenpox, according to Dr Brunda, can include fever, headache, loss of appetite, and a rash that appears on the face, chest, back, and limbs. It could also be flu-like symptoms.
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Importance of vaccination
Dr Brunda stressed that the increase of cases on average is higher than in previous months — the cause for the trend is multifactorial. She said that it could also include a lack of vaccination or incomplete vaccination schedules, as well as travel-related cases.
Dr Gupta also stressed the importance of vaccination and said that “getting vaccinated against chickenpox is ideal for prevention in children”.
Meanwhile, Dr Naveen Benakappa, Senior Paediatrician at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Bengaluru, said that the symptoms cause itchy blister-like lesions on the skin and becomes more contagious when not vaccinated. The disease is airborne and spreads by skin-to-skin contact too.
“It can be prevented by giving two doses of vaccine — one at 12-15 months of age, which can give about 84 percent protection, and the second at 4-6 years of age for about 95% protection. When this is done, the severity of the infection is low,” he added.
Dr Brunda said that one of the most concerning aspects of this trend this time is the fact that even vaccinated adults are getting affected. However, she also clarified that while vaccines are highly effective, they are not foolproof, and breakthrough cases can still occur.
“Therefore, it is important that both children and adults stay up-to-date on their vaccinations,” she added.
Doctors clarified that the vaccination for chickenpox can be taken even after exposure to the virus.
“It has to be taken within three to five days of exposure. It may help reduce the severity of the disease,” said Dr Shivaranjani Santosh, noted paediatrician from Telangana.
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Treatment options for chickenpox
Doctors said that getting vaccinated against chickenpox is ideal for prevention in children. Treatment is mostly supportive, like hydration, isolation till lesions heal, and ensuring a good diet and rest. Antivirals are used in severe cases and in special circumstances. Antibiotics must be avoided, stressed experts.
Meanwhile, calamine lotion can be applied to the skin to soothe the rash and reduce itching.
Dr Shivaranjani posted, on her Instagram handle, tips for parents on what they must do for fevers and seizures during chickenpox infections.
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“Chickenpox doesn’t usually get complicated in healthy children between one and 12 years of age, so if your child is below 12, then there is no need to give any antiviral medication. However, infants, children above 12 years of age, adults, pregnant women, immunosuppressed people, and people with chronic diseases are more at risk for complications. So, they will need to take antivirals to reduce the duration of illness and to reduce the complications,” she said.
Meanwhile, she clarified that people on long-term salicylate therapy too need to be started on the antiviral medicine immediately. The best effect is when it’s started within 24 hours.
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Dos and Don’ts for parents
Chickenpox is highly contagious — starting from two days before the onset of the rash till all the lesions scab. Dr Shivaranjani said that it can take up to 14 to 16 days on an average (range is 10 to 21 days) for the symptoms to show.
- Consult a doctor if your child or adult develops symptoms of chickenpox
- Take rest as it is essential to recover from chickenpox
- Practice good hygiene
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Wear loose clothing
- Apply calamine lotion on the skin
- Do not scratch blisters, it can cause scarring and increase risk of infection
- Do not give unnecessary antibiotics
- Don’t go to school or work; stay at home until the rash has crusted over and no new blisters are seen
- Don’t share personal items such as towels, clothing or utensils as the virus can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces
- Don’t expose others to the virus, stay isolated