The incidence of varicella virus has been reduced drastically due to awareness of vaccination in many countries. Chickenpox is a type of contagious rash spreading from one person to the other by direct skin contact. It is caused by varicella virus and it largely targets infants and young children. Chickenpox is characterized by itchy rash and blisters all over the skin which automatically disappears in 4-5 days. Chickenpox remains contagious even before the formation of initial rashes and the virus can spread to others until the blisters are present in the body.
Earlier there was epidemic of chickenpox and after the discovery of varicella vaccine in March 1995 things are under control. All the children are to be vaccinated 1-1.5 years of age (first dose) and those who are susceptible can be given a second shot of vaccine before completing 13 years of age. Taking chickenpox vaccine is the only way to prevent this disease completely. Chickenpox is a viral infection causing red colored itchy rash on the skin and it attacks mostly young children. People with spared immunity are likely to get this illness even during adulthood.
Itchy rash with small red blisters all over the body is the symptom of chickenpox. The blisters or lesions initially appear on the face and very shortly it develops on the hands, truck and even on the lower part of the body. For some people chickenpox can cause additional symptoms like mild fever, loss of appetite and tiredness.
Chickenpox has 3 distinct stages as described below:
- In the first stage raised red bumps called papules develop all over the skin. These papules emit pus like substance making the disease highly contagious.
- In the second stage, raised bumps get filled with fluid slightly growing in size which would subsequently break open to leak the fluid inside.
- In the third or final stage, after the fluid gets discharged from the blisters it forms crusts and scabs which might take several days to heal completely.
The entire episode may lasts from 7-10 days or even 2 weeks. A person becomes vulnerable to spread the virus once he/she develops rash on the body until the scabs cover the blisters. The virus can live up to 48 hours on the body of infected person. In severe cases the lesions or blisters can spread even on the eyes, throat and anus region. It may also cause bacterial infection making things worse.
Varicella zoster virus causes chickenpox. It belongs to herpes family that causes many other infectious diseases.
How Far It Is Contagious?
Varicella is highly contagious and it spreads through many ways like direct contact, through sharing of clothing, through air in the form of droplets of cough and sneezing. Chickenpox is contagious even before the rash appears in the body of infected person and until the crusts and scabs are formed over blisters. Any family member who touches the infected individual or his bed or clothing accidentally would develop chickenpox within few days. Symptoms of rash will develop as early as second day of contracting the virus and until 21 days of getting the infection.
Who Are At Risk?
- Any family member with an individual having chickenpox is at high risk of developing this illness.
- You have increased risk if you have not had a shot of vaccine or if you live with infected children.
- Infants and young children are at high risk of getting chickenpox because of low immunity.
- Once you get chickenpox you are not likely to develop second time infection, but the virus remains dormant in the body for several years.
- Pregnant women and people with weakened immunity due to other serious disease like HIV or cancer are likely to get infected.
- Adults who are taking medication like steroids or drugs to suppress immune system for long are likely to develop infection.
Chickenpox can cause serious complications to the developing fetus of pregnant women. It can result in low birth-weight and various other abnormalities in the fetus. So it is essential that all pregnant women should get vaccinated to prevent chickenpox.
Varicella virus would remain in the body for several years once a person gets chickenpox. They remain inactive in the nerve cells. For some people it can cause shingles, a type of painful blisters on the skin. It can get activated when the person’s immunity is spared or during old-age when the immune system of the body gets weakened.
No lab tests are needed to diagnose chickenpox. Your doctor can easily detect it by mere looking at the fluid-filled blisters. To confirm the diagnosis he may request for blood test.
Chickenpox does not require any medical treatment for healthy children/adults and if no other symptoms except blisters are present. Antihistamine pills and ointment can be used to get relief from itching. If the person develops other complications like fever and headache your doctor may prescribe pain-killers like paracetomol or ibuprofen. For severe cases of outbursts antiviral drugs like acyclovir can be prescribed. However it is better to wait for few days for the disease to complete its course. For any healthy person, chickenpox blisters would remain anywhere from 5-20 days. It is highly recommended to avoid going school/workplace to prevent spreading of infection.
Chicken Pox Pictures :
Home Remedies :
- Since chickenpox infection can cause intense itching it is essential to trim the fingernails and wear gloves on the hands to prevent scratching.
- Cool compress can be applied on the itchy areas of the skin. Soft cloth dipped in cold water can be gently massaged on the blisters to reduce itching.
- Alternatively calamine cream can be applied liberally on the affected parts of the skin.
- While taking bath add little baking soda in water to get quick relief from itching.
- Avoid eating hot and fried foods while having chickenpox.
- The patient should remain isolated and other members of the family should not share anything during this period.
- Clothes and bedding of the concerned person should be thoroughly washed in hot water and dried in sunlight.
- Antihistamine drugs like Benadryl can be taken to manage itching.
- Remember not to take aspirin while having chickenpox since it may lead to complicated disease known as Reye’s syndrome.
- Your child may refuse to eat or drink if he develops blisters in the throat or oral cavity. Ensure that the child is not starving and encourage him to drink plenty of fluids of his choice to prevent dehydration.
- Any person (child or adult) should not leave home while having chickenpox since the virus is highly contagious. You can think of sending the child to school after the last spot has completely disappeared from his body.
The only way to prevent chickenpox is by getting vaccinated with varicella vaccine. Each child should receive 2 doses of this vaccine. The first dose will be given during 12-15 months and the next dose anywhere from 4-6 years. In many developed and underdeveloped countries this vaccine has become mandatory in the routine immunization schedule. For children who are doubtful or missed the second dose can take 2 shots of vaccine at three months interval. Adults who have not had chickenpox or have not been vaccinated can also take 2 doses of varicella vaccine at 4-8 weeks interval.