Local chicken pox outbreak prompts physician’s response

An outbreak of chicken pox in the area has prompted a local physician to offer some medical advice to parents.

Randolph Whitely, family practice physician in Hillsboro, said chicken pox is caused by exposure to the highly contagious virus, 14 to 16 days prior to the eruption of the pox.

A chicken pox vaccine was made available for general use in 1991.

“The chicken pox vaccine helps protect against getting chicken pox, and it reduces the degree of the disease,” Whitely said. “But the vaccine is not 100 percent protective.”

The vaccine also reduces the long-range possibility of getting shingles and can reduce the marginal risk for a rare complication of chicken pox pneumonia, Whitely said.

In an information sheet provided by Whitely, the following diagnostic indicators of chicken pox were listed:

n Exposure to a child with chicken pox 14 to 16 days earlier.

n Multiple small, red bumps that progress to thin-walled water blisters, then cloudy blisters or open sores, which are usually less than 1/4-inch across, and finally dry, brown crusts-all occurring within 24 hours.

n Repeated crops of these sores for four to five days.

n A rash on all body surfaces, but it usually starts on the head and back.

n Some ulcers/sores in the mouth, eyelids and genital area.

n Fever, unless the rash is mild.

Those developing the illness can expect the following disease progression: new eruptions crop up daily for four to five days; the fever peaks on the third or fourth day; children start feeling better and stop having a fever once they stop getting new bumps; and the average number of sores is about 500.

Whitely listed home-care procedures for the following symptoms:

n Itching. The best treatment for skin itching and discomfort is a cool bath every three to four hours. Baths don’t spread the chicken pox. Calamine lotion can also be used. If severe itching occurs, a non prescription antihistamine, such as Benadryl, can be helpful.

n Fever. If the child develops a fever more than 102 degrees, Acetaminophen may be given in the dose and duration appropriate for the child’s age.

n Sore mouth. Encourage cold fluids; offer a soft, bland diet; and avoid salty foods and citrus fruits. If the mouth ulcers become troublesome, have the child gargle or swallow one tablespoon of an antacid solution four times daily after meals.

n Sore genital area. If urinating becomes painful, apply some 2.5 percent lidocaine, such as Xylocaine, or 1 percent Nupercainal ointment, every two to three hours.

n Prevention of Impetigo (infected sores). Trim the child’s fingernails short, and frequently wash the hands with an antibacterial soap.

n Contagiousness and isolation. Children with chicken pox are contagious until all the sores have crusted over-usually about six to seven days after the rash begins. To prevent exposing people in the doctor’s office, avoid taking the child to the physician when they are contagious. But, the child does not have to stay home until all the scabs fall off.

USD 410 school nurse Diedre Serene said she relies on the physician to determine when it’s safe for a child to return to school, and she follows the Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidelines.

“We suggest that parents check with their doctor to find out when the child can come back,” Serene said.

“The KDHE has a handbook of communicable diseases that we follow. For example, they have to be out of school five days from when they see the first pox.”

According to Whitely, most adults who think they didn’t have chicken pox as a child have had a mild case. Only 4 percent of adults are not protected.

Siblings will come down with chicken pox in 14 to 16 days. The second case in a family always has many more chicken pox than the first case.

If you lived in the same household with siblings who had chicken pox, consider yourself protected, he said.

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