Chickenpox: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatment


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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)
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • itchy red rash in the form of spots which spreads all over the body
  • spots slowly turn to painful blisters
  • breathing difficulty

Diagnosis

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
  • dehydration
  • 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?

Medical treatments

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.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Chickenpox ?

Patient Experiences

Girish. M
Proper Medical Care for Chickenpox
In the first sight of the scar Dr identified as chicken pox. Examined properly and suggested medication as well as the care to be taken in food . ...Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Deepa Kanchankoti
Myskin Laser Clinic
Amit Ojha
Quick Diagnosis for Chickenpox
The doc was awesome at just 1 look he claimed the infection was chicken pox which other two doctors couln't do. Behaviour was very nice. Medicines were also almost accurate however i was admitted so later it was changed. Overall 9 out of 10 to Doc Mr. Sakaria....Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Amit Sakaria
Prudent International Health Clinic
Parul sahu
Effective Homeopathy Treatment for Chickenpox
I am suffering from chicken pox no relief in allopathy than take a homoeopathy gotted 90% relief in my trouble this to us if for treatment ......Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Surendra Nath Tripathi
Tripathi's Computerized Homoeopathy Clinic / Research Centre

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
I am suffering from chickenpox from 6 days..what i have to do for full care . Diets or other those not allowed for chickenpox
Dr. Manju Lihala
General Physician, Bangalore
You can take normal diet with less salt, nothing cold and plenty of fluids and try to avoid contact with other people and especially children who have not been vaccinated.
Verified User
Its the third day of my chickenpox suffering.some of the blisters are drying but every evening i develop high fever,too much weakness.what should i do?
Dr. Shalini Kushwaha
Homeopath, Lucknow
Hello. You take rhus tox 200 once daily for 5 days and take five phos - two tabs twice daily for 10 days. You will feel better.
Dr. Manpreet Singh Bindra
Hematologic Oncologist, Ludhiana
Take Arsenicum alb 30 for fever and Rhus tox for early desquamation.
Dr. Manju Lihala
General Physician, Bangalore
It is normal to get fever in chikenpox .Take paracetamol 650mg when you get fever and you will feel better. It will take 7-10 days for all the blisters to dry up and the scab will fall off.Do not scratch the lesions otherwise you will develop marks in those lesions where you have scratched.
Ask health queries and get free answers from doctors in 24 hrs

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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Home Remedies

A Neem (Indian Lilac) Water Bath

Add neem leaves to bath water and take a bath or grind some neem leaves and apply the paste on the affected areas. This helps to dry out the blisters caused by chickenpox.

Brown Vinegar

Take half a cup of brown vinegar and mix it in warm bath water. Take bath with this water daily till the chickenpox is cured. Brown vinegar kills bacteria, accelerates the drying of the blisters, and prevents the formation of scars from the blisters.

Keep Bed Linen Clean

Make sure to keep your bed linen clean. Wash the bed linen with antibacterial soap and also disinfect the mattress to prevent the chickenpox from spreading.

Keep Skin Moisturized

You can keep your skin moisturized with calamine lotion which will greatly reduce the itchiness of the blisters during chickenpox.

Apply Coconut Oil

You can apply coconut oil using some cotton over the blisters, when they appear during chickenpox. Avoid touching the blisters with your naked fingers if you are applying it for someone other than yourself. Coconut oil is antibacterial and antiviral and can even prevent blisters from coming up.

Eat Plenty Of Vegetables

Eat plenty of vegetables of all colours when suffering from chickenpox.

Eat Plenty Of Fruits

Consume fruits such as guavas, berries, and watermelon when suffering from chickenpox. Avoid acidic fruits.

Keep Yourself Hydrated

Drink plenty of water to keep yourself well hydrated. You can also drink buttermilk, and coconut water.

Do Not Scratch Blisters

While suffering from chickenpox, do not scratch the blisters vigorously as it will break the blisters from which water will ooze and infection will spread apart from creating ugly.
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