PARENTS

Why Can't My Youngest Child Get Chicken Pox?

14/08/2014 16:51 | Updated 22 May 2015

The House Dad Chronicles: Why can't my youngest child get chicken pox?

For the last four weeks, I've been living in a high state of preparedness, watching for signs, ready to pounce.

My medicine cabinet is stocked with calomine lotion, oatmeal bath products, anti-histamines and child-strength paracetamol. But they're all un-opened, un-needed.

As a parent, I should thank my lucky stars for this. My children are as fit as fiddles at a barn dance, yet I find myself virtually yearning for the youngest to show signs of a fever.

Is that wrong? Of course it's wrong, but I've got a very good reason for wanting my five-year-old to become ill – because he is the ONLY child in his Year 1 class of 28 kids who hasn't had chicken pox in the last month.

Why? What's wrong with him? Isn't he good enough for the dreaded lurgy or something? Or is he some kind of super-child from an alien race, who is immune to such childhood milestones?

But my biggest fear is this: if he doesn't get it now – when I've heard it is a relatively mild illness – will he get it when he's older – when I've heard its symptoms are horrific?

I know this is something no rational parent would actively wish on their child, and I've seen the evidence for myself on my lad's classmates, with their little faces an explosion of angry, red, pus-filled dot-to-dot spots, and their normally chirpy personalities transformed into grumpy lackadaisiacs.

Just as distressing is seeing their mums, tortured with concern for their little ones – but then a few days later, smiling and happily boasting: 'Well, thank God, THAT'S out of the way' as their children, crusty with dried up spots, re-discover their pre-CP energy.

Still, it is an unpleasant disease, and no mistake, and not one I would wish on my worst enemy – and yet, and yet, I wish it upon my own child.

Chicken pox (or varicella for its medical name) is caused by a herpes virus and, although usually mild, it is incredibly infectious, being passed around through coughs and sneezes. Once your child has had chickenpox, they won't get it again.

However, the virus remains in the body and can reappear (perhaps during periods of being run down) in adulthood as shingles.

Children who have not yet had chicken pox can catch it from an adult with shingles. A child will have caught chicken pox long before they show any symptoms - in fact, it might take as long as three weeks for it to become apparent they have the virus.

At first, they are likely to get a fever (over 38C), flu-like aches and pains and perhaps feel a bit sick and go off their food.

The first obvious sign chicken pox is the culprit will be red spots on their face, and these will soon spread down their body to their chest and tummy, back and limbs. Some children are lucky and get relatively few spots; others will have hundreds.

Either way, the spots – which will blister and become intensely itchy – can appear everywhere, including on the scalp, soles of the feet and genitals, and even inside the mouth and ears. After several days, the spots will begin to crust over and start drying out.

Eventually, the crusted skin will fall off of its own accord, but new spots will keep forming for up to five days, so the whole process can take between one and two weeks.

So, that's how it affects children. But what are the dangers to teenagers and adults?

According to Dr Sarah Jarvis : "Chicken pox is usually a milder illness in a child than in an adult. "The risk of serious complications is higher in teenagers and adults."

And although rare, these complications include: pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), myocarditis (inflammation of heart muscle), glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation), appendicitis, hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), orchitis (inflammation of the testes), arthritis, and inflammation of various parts of the eye.

That's A LOT of inflammatory potential that I don't want my lovely little boy to experience when he's a not-so-lovely gangly teen or adult.

Dr Jarvis adds: "Most people get chicken pox at some stage. As the risks are fewer if you have it as a child, it may be better to get it over with."

Which is exactly my view. When I was growing up, my three younger brothers and I – all born within five years of each other - all had chicken pox at the same time. It was a week of hell for our mother, but once it was over with, she never had to face it again.

Similarly, my stepdaughter, who is now 11, and my son, now eight, both got CP together, before they started school.

Back then, their mum was working from home and so tended to their woes. But then their little brother came along and he hasn't had so much as a pimple let alone the pox.

A couple of years ago, when he was four, he was invited to a 'Pox Party' where children are invited to catch the lurgy from the host child. They were all the rage in the States, organised by anxious parents keen to get CP out of the way so they could stop fretting about the future.

I turned down the invitation, but I'm now wondering if I should have accepted. For the dread of chicken pox can only grow with each passing year.

All of my son's classmates have had it now. Over and done with. When he eventually succumbs, I imagine it will hit him harder than if he had it now.

So I'm sorry to wish this on you, son, but please get sick. For your sake.

• If you're concerned about chicken pox, click here for our guide to symptoms and treatments. For more information on chicken pox, visit NHS Choices.

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