Chicken pox during childhood is pretty much guaranteed, but shingles during childhood
Below is an image of Theo with chicken pox before it reached its peak, eventually his entire body was covered and it took nearly a fortnight for him to get over it. I never wanted to see my baby go through anything like that again, so I was relieved when he finally recovered. Getting chicken pox more than once is rare, so I naively believed we’d fought and won that particular parenting battle. After all, he had suffered so much, surely he wouldn’t have to go through it all again?
He’d already dealt with so much in his little life, eczema, asthma, severe allergies, a severe case of chicken pox, his resilient nature has never failed to amaze me. He’s always smiling.
I had always believed that shingles was something that only adults could get. I had never heard of a child being diagnosed with shingles, so when Theo developed a red blotchy rash on his torso I initially didn’t think it was anything more than a viral rash.
He had been under the weather a few days beforehand with a high temperature and a headache, I didn’t connect the two until the rash became blistered and angry. Mother’s intuition is amazing, I don’t know how or why , but I just knew that this wasn’t just any rash. This was shingles.
I took him to the GP the same day, but I was told by a receptionist that at 5 years old he couldn’t possibly have shingles. Nevertheless, I was given an appointment, but was told his rash was just a bad case of eczema. I put my faith in the professionals and tried to accept that my instinct was wrong, but I just couldn’t, and after three days the rash was angrier than ever.
Theo was fine in himself, the temperature and headache from the week before was a distant memory, but the rash was a huge cause for concern so we visited a different GP who, within seconds, diagnosed him with shingles.
Unfortunately due to a late diagnosis, he was unable to take the anti-viral medication that is usually prescribed to those with shingles but thankfully he was coping well, so despite my anger at the delay in diagnosis, I let it go.
Not expecting to be faced with shingles, I felt completely out of my depth. I knew what shingles was, and what it meant for adults, but as shingles in children with healthy immune systems is rare, I struggled to find any information or advice for a child of Theo’s age.
That’s why I decided to write this post, because, although rare, children CAN get shingles. It’s something I hope your child never has to deal with, but, if they do, I want to use our experience to help make your experience easier.
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. Even after the chicken pox infection is over, the virus stays dormant inside the nervous system for years before re-occurring as shingles. Shingles is a rash caused by an infection of the nerves below the skin. It typically appears as a stripe of irritated skin and blisters on one side of the chest or back, but it can occur anywhere on the body.
The first symptoms of shingles are usually tingling, itching, and pain in the area where the rash is going to appear. Other symptoms include a fever, headaches, muscle weakness and fatigue.
At first, the rash will appear as red and blotchy. Within a few days, the blisters will appear, this is when you need to be really careful. The blisters (see image below) are painful, and the fluid within the blisters is highly contagious. Those who come into contact with the fluid can get chicken pox if they haven’t had chicken pox before, but it is not possible to catch shingles from someone with shingles.
As long as the rash/blisters remain covered in loose clothing, it is usually fine for both adults and children to continue their daily lives without too much upheaval. Theo was diagnosed during half term, which was great as he was already off school. We still had lots of fun, we just made sure we had pain relief and a thermometer with us at all times. We even visited Africa Alive! which Theo loved, it was a welcome distraction.
If you do need to touch your child’s blisters, always wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Always ensure that other family members do not use the same towels and flannels whilst the rash is healing.
There are many ways you can help your child when they are suffering with chicken pox or shingles. Make sure you keep an eye on their temperature, and medicate appropriately if their temperature is higher than normal. An uncontrolled temperature can cause further implications. If the temperature does not decrease after administering medicine, contact your local GP or pharmacist for advice.
Theo didn’t eat for days when his shingles rash was at its worst. I couldn’t even get any of his favourite prawn cocktail crisps into him – so I knew he was definitely not well! Eventually he accepted soft and/or cold food such as yogurts, so its a good idea to stock up on easy to eat foods if your child is likely to lose their appetite.
And finally, TLC will be required in abundance. Stock up on cuddles, kisses and be prepared for exhaustion. Theo found settling down to sleep a struggle, and once he was asleep, he was usually awake within hours. He was incredibly restless and over tired, which meant that I spent several nights laying awake with him waiting for him to drift off again.
Chicken pox and shingles are hugely unpleasant, especially when unexpected! I really had to think on my feet and do the best I could whilst also trying to spend time with Mia, who was also on half term. Knowing how to help your child when or if they suffer with this horrible virus will help you to be prepared and ease the strain on both you and your child.