In this article we will look at:
- What is chickenpox?
- How does chickenpox occur?
- Who is prone to chickenpox?
- What are the symptoms of chickenpox? How is chickenpox diagnosed?
- What are the complications of chickenpox?
- What is the treatment for chickenpox?
- Home Remedies for Chickenpox (end of page)
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What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral illness, characterized by an extremely itchy red rash which spreads all over the body. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Oftentimes, it is children under the age of 15 years who suffer from this disease, though, it also infects children older than 15 years and adults as well.
Chickenpox spreads through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or if someone comes in touch with his/her clothing.
If you observe any chickenpox-related symptoms, or if you feel you have been exposed to someone who suffers from chickenpox, you need to immediately contact your family physician or a general physician.
It will also be wise to let your doctor know in advance that you are coming for consultation for suspected chickenpox so that the doctor can take adequate precautions against the spread of infection.
How does chickenpox occur?
You can contract chickenpox if you:
- are exposed to an infected person who is sneezing or coughing
- come in contact with his clothing, or his bed linen
- touch his open or oozing blisters
Once the varicella-zoster virus finds its way into your body, it latches on host cells in the nose and reproduces very fast. All the replicated virus particles then travel to the spleen, liver, sensory and nerve tissues. The cycle of reproducing continues in different areas of the body, till the particles finally affect the cells of the skin which reacts by producing the tell-tale skin rash.
Chickenpox is the most contagious around two days before the rash appears.
The incubation period for the varicella-zoster virus is usually 10-21 days, after the exposure to the virus.
Post the incubation period when the varicella virus gets into the bloodstream, the body’s immune system recognizes the intruder and starts fighting it. During this period, you will experience high fever which lasts a couple of days. Children usually experience the blisters first and then the fever. Adults, on the other hand, experience the fever first.
The blisters begin to itch and continue to do so for three to four days before they burst, darken and start to scab. Itching is usually considered a good sign, for it means the immune system is successfully warding off the virus.
An unvaccinated person can experience up to 500 blisters in various parts of the body including the eyelids, genitals, and mouth.
If a vaccinated person contracts chickenpox he/she may experience around 50 blisters.
After the blisters scab and dry out the disease is no longer contagious. Till then the infected person needs to be isolated or quarantined so that the disease does not spread to others.
Chickenpox can be prevented by vaccination. However, there are some rare cases where even after vaccinations people still got the disease, although, with fewer and mild blisters and almost no fever.
The chickenpox vaccine is not for the following people:
- pregnant women
- people with impaired immune systems
- people suffering from fatal illnesses, such as leukemia
- people who are allergic to ingredients in the vaccine such as neomycin
- people who have recently received immunoglobulin (IG), blood, or plasma
- people suffering from active and untreated tuberculosis
Majority of the people who have had chickenpox once develops a lifelong immunity to it. The varicella-zoster virus, however, remains dormant in the body, and in some people, much later in life, it activates due to a weak immune system and causes shingles or herpes zoster.
Who is prone to chickenpox?
People who are highly prone to chickenpox include:
- newborn babies whose mothers never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated
- pregnant women who never had chickenpox
- if one closely interacts with an infected person
- children under 10 years of age
- those who work in a facility where there could be cases of chickenpox such as schools, daycare facilities, and hospitals
- those who have weak immune systems
- those who reside in places where the climate is generally cold
What are the symptoms of chickenpox? How is chickenpox diagnosed?
Chickenpox is usually characterised by the following symptoms:
- high fever, coughing, sneezing (typical flu-like symptoms)
- loss of appetite
- itchy red rash in the form of spots which spreads all over the body
- spots slowly turn to painful blisters
- breathing difficulty
A general physician can diagnose chickenpox through the tell-tale rash. Usually, no medical tests are required. To confirm the doctor may ask you to undertake a few laboratory tests such as blood tests and certain lesion tests.
What are the complications of chickenpox?
Chickenpox is normally a mild disease. However, in some cases it can lead to very serious complications including death. Certain serious complications include:
- encephalitis or inflammation of the brain
- toxic shock syndrome
- complicated pregnancy where the infection can spread to the unborn baby
- bacterial pneumonia
- respiratory complications
- bacterial infections of the skin, bones, joints or bloodstream (sepsis)
- shingles (which can occur much later in life when the dormant the varicella-zoster virus wakes up due to a variety of causes such as weak immune system, stress, anxiety, etc.)
What is the treatment for chickenpox?
The doctor may prescribe some antiviral drugs to shorten the duration of chickenpox symptoms. He may also prescribe fever reducers, painkillers along with antibiotics, if necessary, to prevent or reduce any secondary complications.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Chickenpox an endemic & epidemic in India
Chickenpox is found both in endemic and epidemic forms in India.
Chickenpox patients are at a risk of contracting shingles later
At least 20% of the people who’ve had chickenpox are at the risk of getting shingles or herpes zoster later in life.
Chickenpox more severe in adults
Though this disease frequently occurs in children below 10 years of age, it is more severe in adults.
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