Another two to three weeks and the 'winter' known to the UAE will be all but readying itself to set in. Temperatures will dip and families will return 'home' from extended holidays after spending time with extended families.

By Sushil Kutty

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Published: Sat 7 Aug 2004, 1:48 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:32 AM

It will also be the time for that other summer surprise - the 'back-to-school' surprise, as long as no kid carries with him or her a virus or two that give an unpleasant edge to the surprise - like the chickenpox virus.

A paediatrician in Dubai has a suggestion: Ensure that all children who have not been laid low by chickenpox are vaccinated before they set foot in class. That could save a lot of trouble, pain and agony not to speak of time and money.

"The chickenpox vaccination is not part and parcel of the vaccination schedule in UAE," says Dr Naresh Sharma, specialist paediatrician, Welcare Hospital, "But that shouldn't stop parents from giving chickenpox shots to children."

"The chickenpox virus is highly contagious, 90 per cent of the time you will get it if you have come in contact with an infected person. It can spread by contact, or through the air. Incubation takes 14 to 17 days and at full-blown it can spread to all over the body - the ears and the eyes, the mouth and the urinary tract. In children it is very common, it is primarily a childhood disease but most of all it is a miserable disease, the cause of much misery," says Dr Sharma.

However, says Dr Sharma, the disease is found to be less severe in children. The severity increases with age and adults too get it. Vaccination might even work if administered within 72 hours after exposure and though it might not be fully protective the chances of protection are still there, says Dr Sharma.

It is has been noticed that some people would prefer their children to get chickenpox to acquire what's called "natural immunisation". Dr Sharma is against this belief. There are too many collateral risks involved. Like the 'scarring' that could leave its mark on the body - and the psyche. Or the complications like severe skin infections that may arise not to mention the involvement of the brain.

"In the US 100 children die of chickenpox every year. That's quite a tally, one which can be avoided with vaccination. And this in a country which has the chickenpox vaccination in its vaccination schedule," says Dr Sharma.

In the UAE, chickenpox vaccine can be admisnistered for Dh250. And, says Dr Sharma, it is any day better to take the vaccine rather than wait for chickenpox to strike. And yes, like with any other vaccine, there are controversies involved but these are getting sorted out and it is "good practice to vaccine" because the "risks of waiting to get that natural immunity" are rather high.

Dr Sharma says chickenpox cases are reported all over the year in the UAE, but they pick up in the winter months. As for adults who may be complacent that they need not fear because they have had chickenpox when they were young, he warns them about the risk of Herpes Zoster or the 'Shingles' which is sort of like a late strike by the chickenpox virus.

"After playing havoc with the body and the mind the virus sits in the Nerve Ganglia, dormant for years biding time, and then when it finds the body lowering its defences, it strikes - that's Herpes Zoster," says Dr Sharma.

Point is, it is wise to vaccinate. And now is the right time not to chicken out from making that decision.

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