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Thursday, 21 October 2004

Time to immunise your kids against chicken pox

Parents are urged to monitor children for symptoms of the highly infectious disease 'chicken pox', with the end of winter and start of spring, a peak time for increase in this common childhood illness.

While chicken pox can occur throughout the year, a recent report on the trends of chicken pox infections Australia-wide indicate that it peaks in January and drops off between February and March.

Staff Specialist in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at Sydney Children's Hospital,
Dr Pamela Palasanthiran said today that chicken pox is most common in pre-school and primary school aged children.

'A vaccine to prevent catching chicken pox has been available in Australia since 2000,' said Dr Palasanthiran.

'It can be given from age of 12 months onwards to healthy persons who have never had chicken pox before. Children under 14 years of age will require only one shot of the vaccine. Individuals 14 years and over will need two shots 1-2 months apart. Once vaccinated, an individual is considered to be at minimal risk of catching the infection from about 2 weeks after the shots. So parents may think about vaccinating children before the peak season.'

'It is not currently on the standard childhood immunisation schedule, but can be purchased on prescription after a visit to your doctor. The costs would vary, but is expected to be around $60-70 per shot.'

Dr Palasanthiran said if a person in a household contracts chicken pox, there is a 90 per cent chance that other family members including children who have never had the disease will be infected.

'The general rule is chicken pox will show up about 10 to 21 days after your child has come into contact with a person who is suffering from chickenpox,' she said.

'Chicken pox is a viral illness caused by the 'varicella virus'. Chicken pox usually starts as a feverish illness followed by spots that becomes blistery and quickly spreads. The rash can develop all over the body, usually at different rates (i.e. like 'crops of rashes') and may continue to spread for up to four days.

A child is no longer infectious once all the spots have formed scabs, which generally takes five to seven days. After this time, a child can usually return to school, pre-school or childcare.

For fever or pain, children can be given paracetamol rather than aspirin, which may increase the risk of a rare but serious condition known as Reye's Syndrome.

'On rare occasions chicken pox can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, severe bacterial skin infections or encephalitis (brain inflammation). However, most children will recover completely from chicken pox. Everyone who has recovered from chickenpox is then at risk of developing 'shingles' later in life.'

'It is always important to consult with your doctor if you are concerned and to keep in mind that chicken pox can be prevented by immunisation.'

For Further Information Contact:

Jan Forrester, Public Affairs Manager Tel: 9382 3571 - Mob: 0411 730 842

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