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Chickenpox: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis, and Vaccine

Published on Jan 17, 2018 and last reviewed on Jul 14, 2020   -  5 min read

Abstract

Abstract

Chickenpox, also called varicella, is a common childhood infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Read about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Chickenpox: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis, and Vaccine
Contents

What Is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common childhood viral disease that develops in persons not previously exposed to chickenpox, not vaccinated against chickenpox, and in recent contact with persons having chickenpox or shingles. Although it is more common in children from 5 to 12 years of age, it can occur in any age group, including adults.

A vaccine is available, which protects children, and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends routine vaccination for chickenpox. This vaccine is a safe and effective method to prevent chickenpox.

What Causes Chickenpox?

It is an infection that classically presents with rashes and fever. It is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster. This infection has an incubation period of seven to 21 days, meaning it may take up to those many days for symptoms to appear after the virus enters the body.

How Does It Spread?

Direct spread through skin to skin contact, or contact with oral droplets during coughing and sneezing, or touching the fluid from the blisters. You get infected by coming in contact with an infected person. People who are infected can pass on the virus to those around them before a couple of days of blisters appearance, and until all blisters have crusted over.

Factors That Reduce the Risk of Chickenpox:

Previous infection and vaccination reduce the risk of infection. A mother can also pass immunity from the virus to her newborn baby, which lasts for about three months.

Risk Factors:

The following factors can increase the risk of infection:

  1. If you have never got chickenpox.

  2. Recent contact with an infected person.

  3. Children under 12 years of age.

  4. Spending time in a child care facility.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Chickenpox?

Itchy rashes are the primary symptom. Other symptoms can appear earlier, even before the appearance of rashes:

  1. Tiredness.

  2. Headache.

  3. Body pain.

  4. Fever.

  5. Loss of appetite.

When to See the Doctor?

See the doctor if:

More About the Rashes

The rashes go through different stages, namely:

This process takes about a week. They usually start to appear in the head and trunk and then spread to the arms and legs. Since the new rashes develop in waves, there are multiple rashes all over the body, each at a different stage. Most cases of chickenpox get completely cured in a period of two weeks.

Indirect spread through contact with contaminated objects such as doorknob, clothing, and toys.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose Chickenpox?

In case you develop unexplained rashes, you should consult a doctor immediately, even more so if the rash is accompanied by flu-like symptoms. As these are signs that your symptoms are due to a viral infection.

The doctor will diagnose chickenpox based on the physical examination of blisters. Or the doctor will send the fluid from the blisters to confirm the cause.

What Are the Treatment Options for Chickenpox?

Home Management

The prime requirement in home management will be to care for the itchy blisters.

Treatment

  1. Antivirals such as Acyclovir are prescribed if the patient is in the high-risk category. If not, the infection is allowed to run its course.

  2. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and pain.

  3. Antihistamine to control the itching.

  4. Lacto Calamine to soothe the skin.

A person with chickenpox usually recovers without any antiviral treatment. But antivirals are given in case of persons at high risk of complications such as:

  1. Infants.

  2. Teenagers.

  3. Adults.

  4. Pregnancy.

  5. Immunocompromised (HIV).

  6. Leukemia.

  7. Cancer.

  8. Chemotherapy.

  9. Autoimmune diseases.

  10. Immunosuppressive drugs.

Complications of Chickenpox:

  1. Shingles: Once a person has chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus stays on in the nerve cells in a dormant state. If it gets reactivated later in life, it causes a nerve infection known as shingles.

  2. Bacterial infection on skin: Since there are so many itchy open sores on the body, children tend to unknowingly scratch them, depositing the bacteria in their nails into the skin and thus causing a skin infection.

  3. Sepsis: It can occur as a result of bacteria entering the bloodstream from the infected blisters.

  4. Reyes's syndrome: It is a fatal complication associated with Aspirin intake during a chickenpox episode. Aspirin should NOT be given to children to treat fevers caused by varicella-zoster.

  5. Pneumonia: This complication is more probable in pregnant women with chickenpox infection.

  6. Other less common complications include dehydration, meningitis, and encephalitis.

Chickenpox and Pregnancy

Chickenpox during pregnancy is associated with a lot of serious risks. There is a higher risk of the mom developing pneumonia. She can pass on the infection to the fetus as well (known as fetal varicella syndrome), causing birth defects.

How Can Chickenpox Be Prevented?

Varicella vaccines are available as a combination and are part of the regular immunization schedule regime in most countries. The first dose is given at 1 year and the second booster dose is given at 4 years. For unvaccinated adults in close contact with infected children or adults, the vaccine can be given any time required.

Your body will fight off this viral infection on its own in most cases, and you or your child can return to normal activities in a couple of weeks. You will become immune to this infection once the blisters heal, and the virus will stay dormant in your body. In some rare cases, it may cause re-infection. For more information, consult an infectious disease doctor online.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions


1.

What Does Chickenpox Look Like?

Chickenpox forms like a rash and begins as many tiny red bumps that look like insect bites or pimples. They grow in waves over two to four days, then develop as a thin-walled blister filled around with fluid. The blister walls break, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry and brown scabs.

2.

How Do You Get Chickenpox?

Chickenpox occurs due to transmission through the air. It Can also be transmitted from an infected patient to a healthy person by direct contact. Touching the wounds of the infected person can cause chickenpox. Show the affected person should stay isolated from others. Otherwise, exudates from the patient might affect others also.

3.

How Long Does Chickenpox Last?

Chickenpox usually lasts for seven to ten days in kids, and they can return to day-care or school after about a week. Adults may get sick for a longer duration. All the blisters should be scabbed before they go back.

4.

What Is the Fastest Way to Cure Chickenpox?

Here are some user-friendly remedies that can help adults or children feel normal until the immune system defends off the virus.
- Serve sugar-free popsicles
- Apply calamine lotion.
- Wear mittens to prevent scratching.
- Bathe in oatmeal.
- Take baking soda baths.
- Give approved pain relievers.
- Use Chamomile compresses.

5.

How do I know if it is chickenpox?

Several signs of chickenpox usually happen in the following order as listed below:
- A stomach-ache which lasts for one or two days.
- Headache, feeling tired, and fever.
- Bumps filled with a fluid that resembles like milky water.
- A skin rash that is very itchy and looks like many tiny blisters.
- Skin that looks blotchy.
- Scabs after the blisters break.
- Spots that fade away

6.

What Happens If Chickenpox Is Left Untreated?

Serious complexities from chickenpox include,
- Bacterial infections of the soft tissues and in children, including Group A streptococcal infections.
- Bleeding problems (hemorrhagic complications).
- Inflammation or disease of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia).

7.

How Do You Stop Chickenpox From Spreading?

In addition to vaccination, the spread of chickenpox can be prevented by washing your hands frequently and practicing good hygiene. Decrease exposure to people who are infected by chickenpox. If you are already affected by chickenpox, it is better to stay at home until all of the blisters have crusted and dried over.

8.

Can We Take a Bath During Chickenpox?

By considering itching, take a lukewarm bath every couple of hours for the first few days. Add four tablespoons (two ounces) of baking soda, uncooked oats to a tub of water, corn-starch, or dry. Daily once, soap can be used in any one of the baths to vanish bacteria off the skin as possible. Gently pat your skin dry.

9.

How Long Does It Take to Get Rid of Chickenpox?

Sign and symptoms of chickenpox usually last for one to two weeks – for 3 to 5 days after the development of a first initial spotty rash, new spots can appear across the body. Over five to ten days after the rash first appears, all the red spots will dry out, crust over, and fall or get rid of naturally.

10.

What Food Must Be Avoided During Chickenpox?

Mostly salty foods must be avoided during chickenpox. Salty foods may irritate a sore mouth, which is typical in chickenpox patients. Salty foods like vegetable-blend juices and chicken broth will not help the patient recover. Also, it may worsen issues such as dehydration.

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Last reviewed at:
14 Jul 2020  -  5 min read

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