Pox Party

It was hectic weekend. I was feeling feverish, but still had to setup LCD projector for our doctor’s association meeting. Hurriedly reached the site at 7.45PM. The hall was frozen with extremely low temperature on Air conditioner. Some how managed to setup everything and participated in the meeting and came home at 10PM. When I reached home I was shivering badly and temperature was 100 F. Body was aching badly. Before going to sleep with a paracetamol tablets I noticed few faint spots on my face, but I was in no mood to notice them.

Next day morning toilet mirror gave me a horror. Fever was still there, body ache slightly worse. Previous days faints spots were turning into larger blobs of 1mm. There was redness all around them. Then it stuck me that I am suffering from Chickenpox. I had seen so many cases in practice, operated 2-3 active chicken pox victims, but never had the disease. I had assumed that I had sub acute illness in my childhood and was immune to it. I was wrong.

Next 4-5 days were torture. my face started covered by these vesicles which spread to my neck and trunk. Fever was on and off, body ache was terrible. Now my face looked like battle field after an attack from cluster bomb. I was grounded at home as my patients will get frightened looking at me, also I was contagious to them.

One history of medicine book credits Giovanni Filippo (1510–1580) of Palermo with the first description of varicella (chickenpox). Subsequently in the 1600s, an English physician named Richard Morton described what he thought a mild form of smallpox as “chicken pox.” Later, in 1767, a physician named William Heberden, also from England, was the first physician to clearly demonstrate that chickenpox was different from smallpox. However, it is believed the name chickenpox was commonly used in earlier centuries before doctors identified the disease.

There are many explanations offered for the origin of the name chickenpox:

  • the specks that appear looked as though the skin was pecked by chickens;
  • the disease was named after chick peas, from a supposed similarity in size of the seed to the lesions;
  • Samuel Johnson suggested that the disease was “no very great danger,” thus a “chicken” version of the pox;
  • the term reflects a corruption of the Old English word, “giccin”, which meant “itching”.

As “pox” also means curse, in medieval times some believed it was a plague brought on to curse children by the use of black magic.

A “pox party” is a party held by parents for the purpose of infecting their children with childhood diseases. Similar ideas have applied to other diseases, e.g. measles, but are now discouraged by doctors and health services. The rationale behind such parties is that guests exposed to the varicella virus will contract the disease and develop strong and persistent immunity, at an age before disaster is likely particularly from chickenpox or rubella.

The first reference to such a practice is the letter of Lady Montagu to Sarah Chiswell describing the parties people in Istanbul made for the purpose of variolation – an effective technique for gaining immunity to smallpox, which she imported to England.

During the medieval era, oatmeal & corn starch was discovered to soothe the sores, and oatmeal or corn starch baths are today still commonly given to relieve itching.

Chickenpox, also spelled chicken pox, is the common name for Varicella simplex, classically one of the childhood infectious diseases caught and survived by most children.

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), also known as human herpes virus 3 (HHV-3), one of the eight herpes viruses known to affect humans. It starts with conjunctival and catarrhal symptoms, moderate fever and then characteristic spots appearing in two or three waves, mainly on the body and head rather than the hands and becoming itchy raw pox (pocks), small open sores which heal mostly without scarring.

Chickenpox has a two-week incubation period and is highly contagious by air transmission two days before symptoms appear. Following primary infection there is usually lifelong protective immunity from further episodes of chickenpox. Recurrent chickenpox is fairly rare but more likely in people with compromised immune systems.

Symptomatic treatment, with calamine lotion to ease itching and paracetamol (acetaminophen) to reduce fever, is widely used.

Chickenpox is rarely fatal (usually from varicella pneumonia), with pregnant women and those with depressed immune systems being more at risk. Pregnant women not known to be immune and who come into contact with chickenpox may need urgent treatment as the virus can cause serious problems for the fetus.

Later in life, viruses remaining dormant in the nerves can reactivate causing localised eruptions of shingles or Herpes Zoster. This occurs particularly in people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly, and perhaps even those suffering sunburn. Unlike chickenpox which normally fully settles, shingles may result in persisting post-herpetic neuralgia pain.

A chickenpox vaccine has been available since 1995, and is now required in some countries for children to be admitted into elementary school unless the parent/guardian submits an exemption. In addition, effective medications (e.g. aciclovir) are available to treat chickenpox in healthy adults and immunocompromised persons.

You can check the following links for more info on Chicken Pox

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