The same virus that causes chickenpox — varicella zoster — can also cause the contagious disease shingles in some children. If your child displays the symptoms of shingles, speak to his pediatrician about possible treatments and what you can do to help speed your child’s recovery.
Shingles occurs when the varicella virus present in the body of an adult or child who has had chickenpox migrates to the dorsal root ganglian cells located in nerves. The virus may stay dormant for years. In some people, however, it becomes active and spreads throughout nerves in the entire nervous system, causing the symptoms of shingles: clusters of rash-like red bumps that usually develop on the trunk or face of one side of the body. After several days, the bumps become small, fluid-filled blisters that crust over and become itchy and painful. Some children with shingles may be tired, achy and experience chills or a fever.
Why Do Some Children Develop Shingles?
No one knows for certain why some children develop shingles and others don’t, but there are a few factors that can increase the risk of the disease. Children with weakened immune systems, such as those how have cancer or are undergoing medical treatment for other health problems, have a greater chance of developing shingles. In addition, children whose mothers had chickenpox during their pregnancy or who contracted chickenpox as a baby — before they reached 1 year of age — also are at higher risk for having the disease.
Left on its own, the crusty rash that develops with shingles heals and goes away within seven to 10 days without any specific treatment. Pain medication such as acetaminophen may be used to help ease your child’s pain. Cold compresses, oatmeal baths and calamine lotion may also help to decrease the itching associated with the rash.
Although shingles is contagious, it can only be transmitted to others if they come into direct contact with the rash. Because of that, your child can still go to school after the rash has developed crusts if the rashes are located on parts of his body that can stay completely covered up and if he doesn’t have a fever or suffer from headaches and fatigue. You should, however, still check with your child’s school.
When to Call Your Doctor
Contact your child’s pediatrician if the rash does not go away after two weeks; if the fluid-filled blisters appear to worsen, become bright red and painful or start to fill with pus; or if the rash is located close to your child’s eyes.