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SWAZILAND: HIV-positive children more vulnerable to chickenpox

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MBABANE, 8 September (PLUSNEWS) - An upsurge in chickenpox among Swazi children and adults is being blamed on a rise in HIV/AIDS in a country with one of the world's highest HIV infection rates.

"Chickenpox is a relatively mild childhood disease, but once contracted it will remain with the child for the rest of his or her life. If the child is HIV-positive, it becomes more serious," said Ministry of Health worker Julie Dlamini.

"What is worrisome about the disease for people of all ages is that, unlike AIDS, which can be contracted only through sexual intercourse with an infected person or the sharing of bodily fluids, chickenpox can be caught merely through close contact with an infected person," Dlamini explained.

As part of a health ministry information campaign, Dlamini was at the Swaziland International Trade Fair this week, distributing leaflets drawing attention to the telltale skin rash that is symptomatic of the potentially fatal disease.

Five medical institutions in the country's four regions have been designated centres for skin problems. Persons with chickenpox-like skin conditions are referred there for testing.

Dlamini said statistics were being compiled, but evidence thus far showed more children became infected with chickenpox during the flu season, now coming to an end, than were infected during the same period last year. Children born of HIV-positive parents have also been infected with the disease.

"It is passed on to the child by the infected parent. The child will have the chickenpox virus all his or her life - we have no vaccinations available in Swaziland," said Dlamini.

The symptoms of the disease are similar to flu, making it initially hard to distinguish from ordinary colds, but children infected with chickenpox develop an itchy red rash with small blisters that enflame the face, scalp, trunk, mouth and eyes.

"If untreated, chickenpox can lead to damaged kidneys, liver, lungs and, eventually, the brain," said Dr Cesphina Mabuza, undersecretary in the Ministry of Health.

The AIDS Support Centre in Manzini, one of Swaziland's larger HIV testing and counselling institutions, is now alerting pregnant HIV-positive women and new mothers to the signs of chickenpox in themselves and their babies.

"It's not just direct contact with an infected person, such as touching the rash of someone with chickenpox, that can pass on the disease; it can be contracted by inhaling the virus from the sputum or saliva of an infected person - sneezes and coughs can be dangerous," said AIDS counsellor Thandi Shongwe.

Ministry of Health pamphlets warning pregnant mothers of the risks of chickenpox to themselves, as well as possible complications in their pregnancy, note that the varisella-zoster virus that causes the disease can also be spread by using an infected person's unwashed bath, basin and towels.

"Basically, we can stop this disease through good hygiene," said Shongwe. "AIDS has made Swazis more hygiene- and health-conscious. Chickenpox is insidious, but preventable."


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
"Sewage sociology" finds condom use rising,  5/Jan/06
HIV positive Swazis take govt to task over ARV supply,  6/Dec/05
Relief for the elderly as pensions go up,  21/Nov/05
Hospitals run out of ARVs,  18/Nov/05
Country's first urban OVC care centre rising to the needs,  15/Nov/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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