Chickenpox or varicella is a viral infection characterized by red, itchy fluid-filled blisters all over the body. It is a highly contagious disease. It is commonly seen in children under the age of 15 years, but older children and adults can also get infected. It is rare to develop chickenpox infection more than once. Though the infection is mild, it is always better to get vaccinated for chicken pox at the right time. The chickenpox vaccine was introduced in the 1990s, since then the cases have declined.
Usually, people get recovered in two weeks, but in severe cases, it lasts longer and may spread to nose, eyes, mouth and even genitals. Chickenpox symptoms usually appear within 10 to 21 days after the individual gets affected with the virus.
The hallmark symptom of chickenpox is an itchy rash. However, the following symptoms may appear in the affected individual before the rashes develop-
- Body ache
- Feels irritated
- Loss of appetite
The rash unfolds in three phases. During the first phase, itchy, pink or red bumps are developed. These bumps are called as papules. In the second phase, these bumps become small, fluid-filled blisters called vesicles. They last about a day before they pop and leak. In the third and final phase, these open wounds start crusting and turn into scabs.
Chickenpox is caused by herpes Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV). This condition remains contagious until all blisters have crusted and dried out. A healthy person may acquire this infection if he comes in contact with the blisters or saliva of the affected individuals. This infection can also spread by inhaling the droplets that may be released by an infected person during coughing and sneezing.
The risk of acquiring chickenpox is higher in the following individuals
- Pregnant women haven’t had chickenpox.
- People who take drugs that may suppress the immune system.
- Individuals who work in a school or childcare facility
- Newborns and infants whose mother never had chickenpox.
- Individuals with a comprised immune system.
- Any person who comes in contact with an infected person.
Chickenpox is usually a mild disease. However, in severe cases, it can lead to serious complications.
- Toxic shock syndrome
- Reye’s syndrome
- Bacterial infections (bones, joint)
A doctor may diagnose chickenpox by examining the skin rash or blisters. If there is any ambiguity about the diagnosis, then few laboratory tests such as blood culture or culture of the lesion sample are done to confirm chickenpox
The duration of treatment of chickenpox is usually 5-10 days. If the condition worsens, then the doctor may prescribe antihistamines, topical ointments or over-the-counter drugs to help relieve itching
A doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs if the infection is severe and complicated. These antiviral drugs do not cure chickenpox but slow down the viral activity, which allows the body’s immune system to overcome infection faster.
If the itching of the skin worsens, then it can be soothed by:
- Taking lukewarm baths
- Avoiding scented lotions
- Wearing soft or lightweight clothes.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent the chickenpox. The chickenpox vaccine is effective and safe and is given in only two doses. The first dose is given at an age of 1 year and the booster dose is given at 4years. Every child should be given the vaccine except those with a compromised immune system. In older adults, who previously had chickenpox, a high dose of this vaccine may be given to prevent outbreaks of shingles. The vaccine may also protect vulnerable people, such as non-immune women who plan for pregnancy. Pregnant women are not eligible for taking this vaccine.