A new variant of chickenpox namely Clade 9 has been detected in the country. The National Institute of Virology (NIV) has found the presence of Clade 9 variant of chickenpox-causing varicella-zoster virus (VZV) for the first time in India; the said variant is more common in countries like Germany, UK and US. Varicella-zoster virus is one of the nine herpes viruses and causes chickenpox in children, teens and shingles in adults. In India, so far Clade 1 and Clade 5 have been found, but Clade 9 has been detected for the first time. (Also read: Monkeypox or Chickenpox? Doctors explain the difference in symptoms)
What is Clade 9?
Clade 9 is a variant of varicella zoster virus (VZV) that causes chickenpox, a common childhood illness, says Dr Vineeta Taneja – Director – Internal Medicine – Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
Common strains of Varicella zoster in India
“Varicella zoster is a virus which causes chickenpox in younger population and shingles in adults. Clade 1 and 5 were the variants of varicella zoster known to cause infection in Indian population. But in a recent survey, it was found that Clade 9 which is the dominant strain in western countries, has been found in circulation in the Indian subcontinent too,” says Dr Tushar Tayal, Consultant- Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram.
What are its symptoms?
Some of the symptoms of Clade 9 includes rash, fever, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue and an overall sense of ill health, adds Dr Taneja.
“The chicken pox rash appears 2-3 weeks after exposure to the virus. Prior to appearance of rash, patient develops fever, body ache and headache. The rash appears in form of bumps called papules followed by small fluid-filled blisters called vesicles which eventually heal with formation of scabs. The fever settles 1-2 days after the appearance of rash. The entire process happens over a period of 2 weeks and the person is infective to others 2 days prior to onset of rash and the infectivity continue till scab formation,” says Dr Tayal.
Is clade 9 more severe than previous variants?
“Presently there is no difference in the severity of infection with Clade 9 as compared to the previous variants,” adds Dr Tayal.
Dr Vineeta Taneja says the most effective way to prevent chickenpox is getting vaccinated. One should also practice good hygiene and regular handwashing can also help.
“In many countries, including the United States and several European countries, the Varicella vaccine is routinely administered to children as part of the immunization schedule. If you’re in a region where this vaccine is available, make sure you and your children are up-to-date with their vaccinations,” says Dr Taneja.
“Practicing good hygiene can help reduce the risk of VZV transmission. Encourage regular handwashing with soap and water, especially after coughing, sneezing, or touching the face. Avoid close contact with individuals who have chickenpox or shingles,” she adds.
Here are other prevention tips to follow:
Isolation: If someone in your household has chickenpox, try to isolate them from others, especially individuals who are at high risk of severe complications, such as pregnant women, newborns, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
Cover coughs and sneezes: Teach proper cough and sneeze etiquette to minimize the spread of respiratory droplets that may contain the virus. Use a tissue or your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
Avoid sharing personal items: Refrain from sharing personal items like towels, clothing, and utensils with someone who has chickenpox until they are no longer contagious.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A strong immune system can help prevent infections. Ensure you and your family members maintain a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.
Seek medical advice: If you or your child is exposed to chickenpox or develops symptoms, seek medical advice promptly. There may be specific recommendations from healthcare professionals to manage the situation, especially if you or your child are at higher risk of complications.
Post-exposure prophylaxis: In some cases, post-exposure prophylaxis with Varicella-Zoster Immune Globulin (VZIG) may be recommended for individuals at high risk of severe disease after exposure to chickenpox. Consult a healthcare provider for guidance.
Antiviral medications: Antiviral drugs, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir, are commonly prescribed to manage VZV infections. These medications can help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms, as well as the risk of complications. Treatment should ideally start within 72 hours of the rash onset for maximal effectiveness.
Pain management: Pain, itching, and discomfort are common symptoms of VZV infections. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate these symptoms.
Calamine lotion: Applying calamine lotion to the skin can help relieve itching and discomfort associated with chickenpox or shingles rashes.
Cool baths: Taking cool baths or applying cool, damp compresses to the affected areas may provide relief from itching.
Rest: Rest is important to support the body’s immune response and help with the healing process.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection occurs as a complication of scratching the rash.
Topical antivirals: In some cases, topical antiviral creams or ointments may be used to manage skin lesions, particularly in cases of herpes zoster.
Antiviral prophylaxis: High-risk individuals, such as those with weakened immune systems, may be given antiviral medications as prophylaxis if they are exposed to VZV to prevent severe disease. Consult a healthcare provider for guidance.
Eye care: If the eye is affected by herpes zoster (ophthalmic shingles), consult an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) for proper evaluation and treatment.
Pregnant women: Special precautions and management may be required for pregnant women who develop chickenpox or shingles, as these infections can pose risks to the foetus. Consult a healthcare provider for guidance.
“Treatment of chicken pox is primarily symptomatic. Antivirals may be added for reducing the severity of infection and duration of recovery. Self isolation is extremely important to prevent spread of u infection to unvaccinated population and elderly. Prevention of chicken pox is with help of varicella zoster vaccine which is to be taken in 2 doses 4 months apart,” says Dr Tayal.