Most people think of chickenpox as a common and largely harmless childhood disease. Children with chickenpox usually have a high fever, feel ill for several days and develop a rash — tiny clear blisters that start on the chest, back or abdomen. Normally, these blisters form scabs and begin to heal in three to four days. In rare cases, chickenpox may result in serious complications and even death.
Preventing chickenpox in children
Current medical guidelines recommend that almost all children receive the chickenpox vaccine. While a vaccinated child may still get chickenpox, the disease is typically milder and less likely to have severe complications.
Finding out if your child has been exposed to chickenpox
When cases of chickenpox are reported at school, find out if the infected children are in your child’s class or if a playmate is infected. If so, your child has been exposed. Check every day during the incubation period — two to three weeks — for fever and for the blisters.
Childhood asthma, corticosteroids and chickenpox
To reduce swelling and tightness in their airways, some children with asthma are treated for months or years with an oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone. Others may be treated with a short “burst” of an oral corticosteroid for five to seven days. A burst is prescribed in an emergency situation when asthma severity markedly intensifies. While corticosteroids are known to suppress immune function, children receiving oral corticosteroid treatment rarely have complications from chickenpox.
There is no evidence that an inhaled corticosteroid poses an increased risk for children with asthma who are exposed to chickenpox. Inhaled corticosteroids are used for long-term relief of symptoms and reduce the need for extra medicine, such as oral steroids.
Typically, children with asthma who are treated with corticosteroids and have chickenpox should continue their therapy. Stopping prescribed asthma treatment is much more dangerous to the child than the potential risk from continuing corticosteroid use during an outbreak of chickenpox.
If your child is exposed to chickenpox while being treated for asthma with an oral or injected corticosteroid, tell your allergist immediately. The allergist may prescribe a shot called varicella zoster immune globulin (VariZIG). However, if your child is being treated with an inhaled steroid but not with an oral steroid, VariZIG is usually unnecessary. Your allergist also may prescribe acyclovir, an antiviral agent that lessens the effects of chickenpox.