She was recommended the common pain relief medication by a doctor who didn’t know that it shouldn’t be used to treat chickenpox.
UK mother-of-three Verity was nursing her son Tommy’s case of chickenpox at home in June before he began experiencing a “raging temperature”, she wrote on Facebook.
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Broomfield Hospital prescribed paracetamol and sent her home, but Tommy’s condition deteriorated until he was unable to keep down food or liquids – that’s when Verity went looking for a second opinion.
A male nurse at a hospital in Colchester told her that she could take paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time “to help with the temperature”, Verity said, adding that the doubts she had about the treatment were dismissed as an “old wives tale”.
Verity said he told her: “In all his time working in a hospital he’s never seen ibuprofen react to chickenpox”.
But a life-threatening reaction is exactly what happened.
7NEWS.com.au has contacted the hospital for comment.
Research published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics says: “Ibuprofen is associated with severe necrotising soft tissue infections (NSTI) during chickenpox course.”
A necrotising soft tissue infection is a serious condition that destroys skin, muscle, and other soft tissues, and requires immediate treatment.
While the reaction is understood to be rare, Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital also advises against the use of ibuprofen for the treatment of chickenpox in children.
Signs of NSTI began appearing on Tommy’s body just 24 hours after he took the ibuprofen, while Verity and Tommy were still in the hospital, but nurses dismissed the small marks as further signs of chickenpox and sent them home.
“The following morning at 6am was when everything changed,” Verity said.
“Tommy woke up to what could only be described as a bruise on his belly, but by 8am this bruise was turning black. I called my doctor who saw us right away. He confirmed he was infected and drew around the marks to see if it spread… it did, and by 4pm his entire belly was swollen, black and blue.”
Tommy was taken to the hospital but was too unwell to administer an IV line.
“They had several failed attempts so had to inject four lots of antibiotics straight into his little thighs,” Verity said.
Doctors later confirmed he should never have been prescribed ibuprofen.
An IV line was eventually administered for fluids and a strong dose of antibiotics, Tommy’s body became “very puffy and swollen all over” before a gradual return to better health.
How to spot the signs of NSTI
Baby and child CPR and first aid group CPR Kids shared Tommy’s case on Facebook, warning parents that NSTI infections can spread quickly if they are not treated quickly and aggressively.
“If you have a skin infection with a warm, red area, use a marker or pen and outline the red area so that you and the healthcare provider can see how far and how quickly it spreads outside the line,” CPR Kids said.
“Treatment depends on the severity of the infection and can include removal of infected tissue, and antibiotics.
“If your little one has chickenpox and requires pain relief, stick to paracetamol and remember to always follow dosage guidelines.”
Symptoms of necrotising soft tissue infections (NSTI)
- Pain that hurts more than you think it should, based on the size of the wound or sore
- A wound accompanied by a fever and a rapid heartbeat
- Pain that extends past the edge of the wound or visible infection
- Pain, warmth, skin redness, or swelling at a wound, especially if the redness is spreading rapidly
- Skin blisters, sometimes with a “crackling” sensation under the skin
- Pain from a skin wound that also has signs of a more severe infection, such as chills and fever
- Grayish, smelly liquid draining from the wound
- A small sore or pus-filled bump that is unusually painful to the touch
- An area around the sore that is hot to the touch
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Excessive sweating
- Areas of skin at or near the wound that feel numb