Once upon a time, chicken pox was thought of as a rite of passage and accepted as just a part of life. You might have heard your grandma tell you that it’s just a natural way for your body’s toxins to be released, so just suck it up and endure.
Sorry Granny, but you’re WRONG. It’s now 2018 and chicken pox is totally preventable and treatable. We’re here to give you the lowdown on those costs.
Can you get immunised against chicken pox in Singapore?
Yes, you absolutely can. The chicken pox vaccine has been available in Singapore since 1996, but it isn’t among the compulsory immunisations for children. However, you can go ahead and get it done for your child (or yourself).
Vaccination introduces a deactivated virus which the body still recognises as chickenpox. This teaches the body’s immune system to arm itself against the disease. When it is next exposed to the virus, it will be better able to mount a defence so the virus can’t multiply in the body.
Children who’ve been vaccinated have an up to 90% chance of being protected against the illness. Even if they do contract chickenpox, it’s a way milder form because the vaccination reduces the risk of complications by more than 98%.
But why should you get the chicken pox vaccine?
Like the flu, chickenpox is a viral infection and there’s no cure for it. The only way you can protect against it is a vaccine to introduce antibodies against the chicken pox virus into the body, so they can fight the infection for you.
Doctors have been encouraged to ask parents to get their kids immunised against chickenpox. Here’s why:
One, chicken pox isn’t always benign. Most of us experience it as a mild childhood infection, but 1 out of every 500 unvaccinated children with the disease will get a particularly virulent version and need to be hospitalised.
In some cases (just 1%) the child can develop severe fevers and even serious complications like lung and brain inflammation. These can result in long-term brain damage or even death. There’s no way of predicting or controlling whether your child contracts the milder or more virulent version, so why take the risk?
Two, chicken pox is contagious. If one child gets it, it will be very easy to spread it to her schoolmates or siblings. Vaccination reduces the risk of contracting and passing on the disease, making it safer for everyone.
Three, chicken pox can scar. Chicken pox blisters can be very itchy, and many kids will give in and scratch them – damaging the skin and resulting in scars. Since the hundreds of blisters can appears anywhere, including your face, the chance of living with scars that you can’t hide can be high.
Finally, getting vaccinated means you can avoid adult chicken pox.
Wait! You mean adults can get chicken pox too?
Yes, adults can get chicken pox, and they get it worse than kids. Even for the mild cases, adult get more blisters than children – thousands of them, rather than hundreds – which increases the chances of severe scarring.
Getting chickenpox when you’re pregnant can be bad, especially if you’ve never had the infection before. It can increase the chance of miscarriage or pass the infection to your baby. The infection can cause your baby to be born with low birth weight or develop birth defects.
In your third trimester, it can result in varicella pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection of the lungs. If contracted in five days or fewer before delivery, your baby may be born with severe neonatal chicken pox. This is fatal in 1 in 5 newborns.
Another high-risk group of adults are the elderly, who are at much greater risk of developing complications. They tend to have poorer immunity or pre-existing ailments such as diabetes and hypertension that make it harder for their bodies to fight the virus. Chicken pox can lead to secondary bacterial infections as well as lung and brain infections. In 2010, an elderly couple in Singapore died from complications resulting from the chickenpox they caught from their grandchildren.
Given Singapore’s ageing population, the country has been keen to promote vaccination for the elderly as a form of protection. In 2017, it introduced a National Adult Immunisation Schedule (NAIS) much like the one that already exists for children. This is to encourage people 18 and older to get vaccinated.
Oh, and just because you’ve gotten chicken pox in your childhood doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You might be at risk for shingles.
Shingles result when the dormant chicken pox virus, which lies in the nerve cells near the spinal cord, gets reactivated. As many as 1 in 5 adults who’ve had chickenpox develop shingles later in life, usually when they’re 50 or older. So, getting vaccinated against chicken pox actually protects you against shingles too.
When and where can you get vaccinated against chicken pox?
For children, vaccination can start as early as between 12 to 18 months old. Usually they just need 1 dose of the vaccine. But older kids (age 13 and up) need 2.
For adults, you can get vaccinated if you haven’t had chickenpox before. However, pregnant women can’t get the vaccine. And it you’ve just been vaccinated, avoid getting pregnant in the next 3 months.
The chicken pox vaccine is available at private GPs and paediatricians, as well as public clinics under these groups:
No matter where you go, the vaccination itself should cost between $60 to $100 (average $70). The main price difference is in consultation fees. Private paediatricians cost the most, while polyclinics cost the least.
If your child is getting vaccinated, you can pay for it using his Child Development Account (CDA).
If you are getting vaccinated, you can pay for it using your Medisave. You can use up to $500 a year to pay for vaccinations under the Adult National Immunisation Schedule.
What should you do if you or your child kena chicken pox?
The terrible thing about chicken pox is that it’s super easy to kena, as you can catch it just through a cough or sneeze. If someone in your house gets it, you have an 80% to 100% chance of getting it too.
Someone who’s got chicken pox may be infectious before the first rash even appears. So a seemingly healthy-looking person may actually pass you the disease!
The virus takes about 10 to 21 days to incubate, meaning you’ll show no symptoms. Then, the following chicken pox symptoms might appear:
- Fever (the first sign)
- Small, itchy and red blisters on the face and body, even inside the mouth (these may burst when scratched)
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
See a doctor as early as you can. The blisters can sometimes be confused with hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) so it’s best to get it checked out by professional. Then, you can get the right treatment.
If you managed to catch chicken pox early, there’s actually antiviral medication that needs to be taken within 48 hours of the blisters appearing. It helps to reduce the number of blisters and possibly shorten the course of the infection.
Otherwise, the doctor will probably prescribe medicine for your symptoms (e.g. fever and diarrhoea pills, lozenges for sore throat) and a lotion to apply to the spots to reduce the itch and irritation.
You might be surprised to know that it’s actually cheaper to get and treat chicken pox than to vaccinate against it.
Typically, you can expect to spend under $50 on consultation and treatment if you get chicken pox treated at a polyclinic. It’ll cost about $80 to $100 at a private GP, and if you opt for a paediatrician (like in the case of very young kids) treatment will cost from $100 upwards.
Final tips for dealing with chicken pox
Even if it’s a mild case, being down with itchy scratchy chicken pox is no fun. Here are some cheap home remedies to help relieve your symptoms and to limit the spread of your infection:
Take a warm bath – Soaking in a warm bath can help alleviate the itch.
Apply oatmeal to the skin – Oatmeal has natural properties that soothe the skin and relieve irritation. Grind dry oatmeal into a fine powder and apply it to your skin, or add it to your bath.
Try baking soda – Baking soda has anti-itching properties and can neutralise acids on the skin. Add a little baking soda to water to make a paste. Then, dab it onto your skin where it isn’t broken. Leave to dry.
Cool compress – Since you can’t soak in a bath all day long, a cool compress on the blisters can also help with the itch.
Avoid physical contact – It sucks, but since chicken pox is contagious, you should try to limit physical contact with people, even your loved ones.
Separate utensils & cutlery – Wash everything you or your child has touched or used with warm water and soap. Then, separate the utensils and cutlery.
Don’t listen to old wives’ tales – You can eat chicken, seafood, eggs and dark-coloured foods. They won’t cause your scars to darken or make you itch more.
Would you rather get vaccinated or just deal with chicken pox? Tell us in the comments!