What Is Chickenpox?
known as varicella, chickenpox is a virus that often affects children. It is
characterized by itchy, red blisters that appear all over the body. Chickenpox
was once so common it was considered a childhood rite of passage. It is very
rare to have the chickenpox infection more than once.
the chickenpox vaccine was introduced in the mid-1990s, cases have declined.
What Are the Symptoms of the Chickenpox?
A rash is the most common
symptom of the chickenpox. However, you will be contagious several days before
the rash develops and will experience other symptoms first, such as:
- loss of
About two days after you
experience the symptoms mentioned above, the rash will begin to develop. The
rash goes through three different phases before you recover from the virus.
These phases include:
- developing red
or pink bumps all over your body
- bumps filled
with fluid that leak
- bumps that
scab over and begin to heal
The bumps on your body
will not all be in the same phase at the same time. New bumps will appear
throughout your infection. You are still contagious until all the bumps on your
body have scabbed over.
What Causes Chickenpox?
varicella-zoster virus causes the chickenpox infection. Most cases occur
through contact with an infected person. The virus may be contagious several
days before blisters appear, and it remains contagious until all blisters have
crusted over. It is spread through:
- contact with
Who Is at Risk of Developing the Chicken Pox?
to the virus through previous infection, vaccination, or immunity passed from
mother to newborn (immunity lasts about three months from birth) reduces risk.
Anyone who has not been exposed may contract the virus. Risk increases under
any of these conditions:
- You have had
recent contact with an infected individual.
- You are under
12 years of age.
- You are an
adult residing with children.
- You have spent
time in a school or childcare facility.
- Your immune
system is compromised due to illness or medications.
How Is the Chickenpox Diagnosed?
should always call your doctor any time you develop an unexplained rash,
especially if it is accompanied by cold symptoms or fever. You could be
affected by one of several viruses or infections. Tell your doctor right away
if you are exposed to chickenpox while pregnant.
cases of chickenpox are diagnosed based on physical exam of blisters on your
(or your child’s) body. If a diagnosis can’t be made, lab tests will confirm
the cause of the blisters.
What Are Possible Complications of the
Call your doctor right
- the rash
spreads to your eyes
- the rash is
tender and warm (signs of a bacterial infection)
- the rash is
accompanied by dizziness or shortness of breath
complications occur, they most often affect:
- patients with
weak immune systems
- pregnant women
groups may also suffer from infections of the skin or lungs, arthritis, or
transient synovitis. Women exposed during pregnancy may bear children with
birth defects, including:
- poor growth
- small head
- eye problems
How Is the Chickenpox Treated?
people who are diagnosed with chickenpox will be advised to manage their
symptoms while they’re waiting for the virus to pass through the system.
Parents will be told to keep children out of school and daycare to prevent
spread of the virus. Infected adults will also be told to stay home.
medications or topical ointments may be prescribed or purchased over the
counter to relieve itching. You can also soothe itching skin by:
- taking lukewarm
lightweight, soft clothing
drugs may be prescribed to those who experience complications from the virus,
or who are at risk for adverse effects. High-risk patients are usually young,
elderly, or have underlying medical issues. These antiviral drugs do not cure
chickenpox. Instead, they make the symptoms less severe, and make your body
more likely to heal faster.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
cases of chickenpox resolve themselves. Patients usually return to normal
activities within one to two weeks of diagnosis.
chickenpox heals, most people become immune to the virus, as varicella-zoster stays
dormant in the body. In rare cases, it may re-emerge. It is more common for
shingles, a separate disorder triggered by varicella-zoster, to present during
adulthood. If the patient’s immune system is temporarily weakened (possibly due
to advanced age or illness), varicella-zoster may reactivate in the form of
How Can the Chickenpox Be Prevented?
The chickenpox vaccine
prevents chickenpox in 90 percent
of children who receive it. The shot should be given when your child is between
12 and 15 months of age. A booster is given between 4 and 6 years of age. Older
children and adults who have not been vaccinated or exposed may receive catch-up
doses of the vaccine. As chickenpox tends to be more severe in older patients,
parents who did not previously vaccinate may opt to have the shots given later.
People who are unable to
receive the vaccine can try to avoid the virus by limiting contact with
infected people. This can be difficult, as chickenpox can’t be identified by
blisters until it has been contagious for days.