ChickenPox Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
What is ChickenPox
Chickenpox, also called varicella, is characterized by itchy red blisters that appear all over the body. A virus causes this condition. It often affects Children and those younger than age 15 are most likely to get it, but older adults can become infected as well.
Chickenpox (sometimes spelled chicken pox) is highly contagious and can be spread by contact with the affected areas, or by an infected person sneezing or coughing on an uninfected, unvaccinated person.
Symptoms & causes of ChickenPox
Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes the chickenpox infection. Most cases occur through contact with an infected person. An itchy rash is the most common symptom of chickenpox. The infection will have to be in your body for around seven to 21 days before the rash and other symptoms develop. The illness usually lasts about 5 to 10 days. The virus can spread through:
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- Contact with fluid from the blisters
You start to be contagious to those around you up to 48 hours before the skin rash starts to occur. The infection has four stages. The non-rash symptoms may last a few days and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Dry cough
One or two days after you experience these symptoms, the classic rash will begin to develop. The rash goes through three phases before you recover. These include:
You develop red or pink bumps all over your body.
The bumps become blisters filled with fluid that leaks.
The bumps become crusty, scab over, and begin to heal.
Children usually recover from chickenpox without any major issues. However, the illness can cause more severe symptoms for pregnant women, newborns whose mothers weren’t vaccinated or haven’t had the virus before, teens, adults, people with impaired immune systems and people taking certain medications. According to the CDC, complications of chickenpox include the following:
- Blood infections (sepsis).
- Bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues, including infections with Group A streptococcus bacteria.
- Bleeding problems.
- Infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis or cerebellar ataxia).
Diagnosis & tests chickenpox
You should always call your doctor any time you develop an unexplained rash, especially if it’s accompanied by cold symptoms or fever. One of several viruses or infections could be affecting you. Tell your doctor right away if you are pregnant and have been exposed to chickenpox.
Chickenpox is typically diagnosed just by the visible symptoms. A doctor will also check for a fever of between 101 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 38.9 degrees Celsius) and a headache.
Treatments & medications Chickenpox
Healthy children typically do not require any specific medical treatment for chickenpox, according to the Mayo Clinic. But doctors may prescribe antihistamines to help stop the itching.
However, if the patient falls into a high-risk group, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral like acyclovir (under brand name Zovirax) or immune globulin intravenous, known as IGIV, to take within 24 hours of the appearance of chickenpox symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. For adults, valacyclovir (brand name Valtrex) or famciclovir (known as Famvir) may be prescribed.
Aspirin should never be given to anyone with chickenpox because the medication has been linked to a potentially fatal condition called Reye’s syndrome, which causes organ damage, according to the National Institutes of Health. Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) can help relieve the fever associated with chickenpox.
There are several home remedies that may also help, such as:
- Cool baths.
- Applying calamine lotion.
- Getting lots of rest.
- Eating foods that don’t irritate chickenpox sores that may be in or around the mouth.
- Wearing gloves to prevent scratching that can lead to scarring.
Perhaps the best way to “treat” chickenpox is to never get it at all. The CDC recommends two doses of the chickenpox vaccine. Children should receive the first dose at ages 12 to 15 months, and again at ages 4 to 6. Two doses of the vaccine are about 90 percent effective at preventing chickenpox, according to the CDC.
Teens and adults who have not been vaccinated and have never had chickenpox should get two doses of the vaccine, 28 days apart, the CDC says.
People who should not receive the vaccine, according to the CDC, include:
- Pregnant women, who should wait until after giving birth to get the vaccine.
- People who currently have a serious illness.
- people who have been allergic to the vaccine.
- People allergic to gelatin or neomycin (components of the vaccine).
- People who may have had a blood transfusion in the last five months.
- People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or cancer, should speak with their doctor about whether they should get the chickenpox vaccine.
Additional resources for chickenpox finding:
- Facts about chickenpox, published in the Paediatrics and Child Health journal.
- Information on chickenpox from MedlinePlus.