What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral disease, characterized by an extremely itchy red rash which spreads all over the body.
It is caused by the virus named as varicella-zoster. Mostly children under the age of 15 years who suffer from this disease, though, it also infects children older than 15 years and adults as well.
It is spread through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or if anyone comes in touch with his/her clothing.
If you observe any chickenpox-related signs and symptoms, or if you feel you have been contacted to someone who suffers from chickenpox, you need to immediately contact your Doctor.
It will also be advised to let your doctor know in advance that you are coming for consultation for suspected chickenpox so that the doctor can take appropriate precautions against the spread of infection.
How does chickenpox occur?
You can get chickenpox if you:
- Are contacted to an infected person who is sneezing or coughing
- Come in contact with infected person clothing, or his bed linen
- Touch his open/oozing blisters
Once the varicella-zoster virus finds the way into your body, it latches on host cells in the nose and reproduces very fast.
All the replicated virus particles then pass through to the spleen, liver, sensory and nerve tissues.
The cycle of reproducing keeps continues in different areas of the body, till the particles finally affect the cells of the skin which reacts by producing the tell-tale skin rash.
Chickenpox is the most contagious around 2 days before the rash appears. The incubation period for the varicella-zoster virus is usually 10 to21 days, after the exposure to the virus.
Post the incubation period when the varicella-zoster virus gets into the bloodstream, the body’s immune system recognizes the intruder and starts fighting it.
During this period, you will experience a high fever which lasts for a couple of days. Children generally experience the blisters first and then the fever. Adults, on the other side, experience the fever first.
The blisters begin to itch and continue to do so for 3 to 4 days before they burst, darken and start to scab. Itching is typically considered a good sign, for it means the immune system is successfully warding off the virus.
An unvaccinated individual can experience up to 500 blisters in various parts of the body including the eyelids, genitals, and mouth.
If a vaccinated person contracts chickenpox he/she may experience around fifty blisters.
After the blisters scab and dry out the disease is no more contagious. Till then the infected person needs to be isolated so that the disease does not spread to others.
Chickenpox can be prevented by the vaccination. However, there are some rare cases where even after vaccinations people still have the disease, although, with fewer and mild blisters and almost no fever.
The chickenpox vaccine is not advised the following people:
- Pregnant women
- People who have impaired immune systems
- People suffering from fatal illnesses, like leukemia
- Person who are allergic to ingredients in the vaccine such as neomycin
- Person who have recently received immunoglobulin (IG), blood, or plasma
- People suffering from active or untreated tuberculosis
Most of the people who have had chickenpox once develop lifelong immunity to it. The virus, however, remains dormant in the body, and in some people, much later in life, it activates due to a weak immune system and causes shingles or herpes zoster.
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?
Symptoms of Chickenpox are:
- High fever
- Sneezing (typical flu-like symptoms)
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy red rash in the form of red spots which spreads all over the body
- Spots slowly turn to painful blisters
- Breathing difficulty
How is chickenpox diagnosed?
A Doctor can diagnose chickenpox through the tell-tale rash. Generally, no medical tests are required. To confirm the doctor can ask you to undertake a few laboratory tests such as blood tests and certain lesion tests.
Who is on risk to chickenpox?
People who are prone to chickenpox include:
- Newborn babies whose mothers never had this disease and were never vaccinated
- Pregnant women who never had this disease
- Who closely interacts with an infected person
- Children under ten years of age
- Those who work in a facility where there could be cases of chickenpox include schools, daycare facilities, and hospitals
- People who have very weak immune systems
- Those who reside in places where the climate is cold
What are the complications of chickenpox?
It is normally a mild disease. However, in some cases, it can lead to some serious complications including death.
Few serious complications include:
- Encephalitis/inflammation of the brain
- Toxic shock syndrome
- Complicated pregnancy where the infection can spread to the fetus
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Respiratory complications
- Bacterial infections of the skin, bones, joints, and bloodstream (sepsis)
- Shingles: It can occur much later in life when the dormant the varicella-zoster virus wakes up due to a variety of causes including the weak immune system, stress, anxiety, etc.
What is the treatment for chickenpox?
The doctor can prescribe some antiviral drugs to shorten the duration of chickenpox symptoms.
He can also prescribe fever reducers, painkillers medicines along with antibiotics, if necessary, to prevent or reduce any secondary complications.
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