Chicken pox. What is it exactly and where did it get its crazy name? We’re going to find out.
- Chicken pox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It’s most common in children under the age of 12. A generation or two ago, almost everyone got chicken pox at some point in childhood. Today, chicken pox is rare because there is a vaccine for it.
- The first symptoms are often a headache, sore throat, or fever. Then red rashes appear on the stomach or back. The rash spreads over the entire body and it itches like crazy.
- After a few days, the rash turns into blisters which eventually rupture and become scabs. The blisters can become infected or leave scars.
- Chicken pox is usually just an uncomfortable nuisance, but for some kids, it can cause serious problems. Children with cancer or other conditions can become very ill.
- After someone has the chicken pox, the virus remains dormant in the body. Sometimes it “wakes up” when people are older, causing shingles, a painful condition. Someone with shingles can spread chicken pox.
- Chicken pox is very contagious. It spreads through the air and also through contact with saliva or mucous (spit or snot).
- If you get chicken pox, take a warm bath with oatmeal to help the itching. Ask your parent to buy calamine lotion to spread on the rash. You can also take some acetaminophen, but don’t take aspirin, which can cause serious problems.
- Virus: a microscopic organism that can cause illness. It can’t be treated with antibiotics
- Rupture: burst open
- Nuisance: discomfort, irritation
Questions and Answers
Question: Where did chicken pox get its name?
Answer: We don’t know for sure, but chicken pox was originally thought to be a milder form of small pox, an extremely dangerous disease that thanks to vaccines is no longer around. Some people think chicken pox might have been named because it’s “chicken” or less vicious than small pox.
Another theory has to do with language. Giccan is the Old English word for “to itch.” It’s possible that this slowly evolved to “chicken.” Pox comes from the Old English “pocc” which means blister.
See a photo of the chicken pox rash.