Chickenpox: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox, also known as vericella, is characterized by red blisters which itch and appear everywhere in the body. A virus leads to this condition. It frequently affects children, and was so common that it was considered a rite of passage from infancy. (1)(2)

It is very rare for chickenpox to occur several times. And since the introduction of the varicella vaccine in the mid-1990s, the incidence has decreased. (2)

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

An itchy rash is the most frequent symptom of chicken pox. The infection must remain in your body for approximately 7 to 21 days before the rash and other symptoms develop. You start to be infectious to people around you until 48 hours before the rash starts to occur.

Symptoms without a rash can last for a few days, including:

  • headache
  • fever
  • loss of appetite

Within a day or two of experiencing these symptoms, the classic rash will start to develop. There are three phases to the rash before you heal. These include:

  • You develop red or pink pimples anywhere on your body.
  • The bumps are transformed into leaking liquid-filled bulbs.
  • The bumps get crispy, the crust is finished and they start to heal.

Not every bumps in your body will be in the same phase at the same time. New bumps will continually appear as your infection progresses. The rash may cause a lot of itchiness, especially before it turns into a crust.

You’re still infectious until every blister on your body has a scabbed. The crusty scabbed areas eventually fall off. You need 7 to 14 days to completely disappear.

What causes chickenpox?

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes chicken pox infection. Most cases are caused by contact with an infected individual. The virus is contagious to people around you for one to two days before your blisters come on. VZV is contagious until all the blisters have crashed. The virus can be transmitted by:

  • saliva
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • contact with blisters fluid

Who is at risk of developing the chicken pox?

Exposure to the virus from active infection or previous immunization decreases the risk. Immunity against the virus may be transmitted by the mother to the newborn child. Immunity lasts approximately three months after birth.

Anyone without exposure can become infected with the virus. The risk increases under one of the following conditions:

  • You were in contact with someone who was infected.
  • You have less than 12 years.
  • You’re an adult living with a family.
  • You spent time at a school or daycare.
  • Your immune system is weakened by disease and medicines.

How is chickenpox diagnosed?

You should still call your physician as soon as you develop an unexplained rash, especially when accompanied by symptoms of coldness or fever. You may be affected by more than one virus or infection. Notify your physician immediately if you are pregnant and have been exposed to chicken pox.

Your physician may be able to diagnose chicken pox based on a physical examination of the blisters on you or your child’s body. Alternatively, laboratory tests may confirm the cause of blisters.

What are possible complications of chickenpox?

Call your doctor immediately when:

  • Rash spreads to children eyes.
  • Rash is very red, tender, and warm (signs that there is a secondary bacterial infection.).
  • Rash is accompanied by dizziness or shortness of breath.

When there are complications, they most often involve:

These groups can also become infected with VZV pneumonia or bacterial infections of the skin, joints or bones.

Females exposed during pregnancy may have children with congenital malformations, including:

  • head size small
  • eye problems
  • poor growth
  • intellectual disabilities

How is chickenpox treated?

Most people diagnosed with varicella will be notified to manage their symptoms until the virus passes through their system. We will tell parents to stop children from going to school or day care to prevent the spread of the virus. Infected adults will be required to stay at home as well.

Your physician may prescribe anti-histamine medicines or topical ointments, or you can buy them over the counter to help relieve itching. You can also reduce skin itchiness by:

  • bathe in warm water.
  • apply a lotion that is not perfumed.
  • Wear lightweight and flexible clothing.

Your doctor can recommend you antiviral medications if you experience complications caused by the virus or if you are at risk of side effects. Those at high risk are generally the young, the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions. These antiviral medications are no cure for chickenpox. They reduce the severity of symptoms by decreasing viral activity. This will enable the immune system of your body to heal more quickly.

What is the long-term outlook?

The body can solve the majority of chickenpox cases by itself. People typically return to normal activities within 1-2 weeks after diagnosis.

When chickenpox cures, most people become immune to virus. It will not be reactivated because VZV generally remains dormant in the body of a healthy individual. In rare cases, it can reappear to induce a new chickenpox (varicella) episode.

It is more common than shingles, a separate condition also triggered by VZV, occurs later in adulthood. If a person’s immune system is temporarily weakened, VZV can re-activate as shingles. This generally happens because of old age or having a debilitating disease.

How can chickenpox be prevented?

The chickenpox vaccine shot prevents chickenpox in 98 percent of people receiving both of the recommended doses. Your child should be given the vaccine when he or she is 12-15 months old. Kids get boosted between the ages of four and six.

Older children and adults who did not receive the vaccine or can receive vaccination catch-up doses. Because chicken pox tends to be more serious in older adults, people who have not been vaccinated may choose to be vaccinated later.

People who are unable to receive the vaccine may try to prevent the virus by limit contact with affected individuals. But that can be challenging. Chicken pox cannot be identified by blisters as long as it has not been applied to others for days.

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