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Acetaminophen and chickenpox.

Acetaminophen and Chickenpox

Treating the symptoms of an illness is often all that can be done. When a child has chickenpox, parents and doctors want to lessen his discomfort. Aspirin is no longer used to treat the symptoms of viral illnesses because of the risk of Reye's syndrome. Acetaminophen has become the drug of choice for viral illness, including chickenpox.

Acetaminophen helps lower the fever often accompanying chickenpox. But is that desirable? Fever does have beneficial effects. The white cells, which fight infection, work better when the body's temperature is elevated. In addition, lowering fever may increase the length of contagiousness.

A study of close to 70 children with chickenpox found no difference in symptoms (itching, activity, appetite, abdominal pain, fussiness, vomiting, insomnia, headache, or overall condition) with acetaminophen treatment. The only difference found was that the treated children were more active on the second day of their illness. But on the fourth day these same children complained of more itching than the untreated group.

Important factors in the contagiousness of chickenpox is the appearance of new blisters and their scabbing over. There was no difference in the average number of days for the appearance of the last blister in the treated and untreated groups. However, the untreated group had total scabbing 1.1 days sooner. The length of time for complete resolution of all the blisters was the same for both groups.

The authors summarize their findings by stating, "It's tempting to conclude that the children treated with acetaminophin shed virus for a longer period because viral shedding ends when the lesions are dry and crusted. We do not have viral cultures to confirm this speculation." They add there is significance to the shorter time to scabbing, meaning the untreated children can, on average, return to school one day sooner that the children treated with acetaminophen.

So what does this mean? It supports the idea that treating symptoms is generally not necessary and it may inhibit the body's own healing process. Symptoms should be treated only when they bother your child, not when they bother you.

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Publication:Pediatrics for Parents
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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