Chickenpox is a viral disease characterized by red itchy rashes that are accompanied with fever (102 to 103 degrees) and general fatigue. Generally seen during summers, it is one of the most common infectious diseases of childhood (although it occurs in adults sometimes). The disease is named so, because the boils on the skin resemble the peck marks of a chicken.
People suffering from chicken pox acquire immunity against the disease for lifetime (means the chances of getting infected with the virus again is negligible) as they develop antibodies against the virus. However, in some cases the virus can reactivate later in life and cause shingles. With the introduction of chickenpox vaccine, there has been a significant reduction in the number of cases of this condition. Here’s what you should know about chickenpox including its treatment options and precautionary measures.
Chickenpox is caused due to an infection by Varicella Zoster virus (VZV). It is highly contagious in nature and can spread by various means such as –
- When an infected person sneezes or coughs (it is an air-borne disease)
- If a caregiver touches the fluid oozing out of the boils or blisters on the skin
- Touching or using objects (towels, etc) that may have been used by the infected person
- Through close physical contact with the infected person
Usually seen in children below 15 years of age, chickenpox when occur in adults lasts longer and is more severe. It takes around 14 to 24 days to manifest symptoms after being infected with the virus. Once the rashes begin to appear, it is recommended to stay indoors and avoid being in contact with other people, as the disease is highly contagious at this time. The rashes dry out after a week or 10 days forming a scab. However, only after the scab falls off that a person is considered non-contagious.
The common factors that increase the risk of being infected with chickenpox are –
- Weakened immunity: People with weakened immunity are at a high risk of getting infected with the virus as compared to healthy people.
- Being pregnant: The chance of contracting the disease is high in pregnant women during 1st and 2nd trimester of pregnancy. Also, 13th and 20th week of pregnancy and five days before delivery and two days after delivery increase the risk of chickenpox in the woman and her child.
A person usually shows the symptoms of chickenpox after 15 – 16 years of infection. The initial symptoms are flu-like (high fever, headache and coughing or sneezing) and thus, are confused with viral fever leading to missed or delayed diagnosis of the condition. And after a day or two, rashes appear on the skin which later spreads to the entire body. The boils or blisters burst after about 2 days and once the scab falls off, the patient can resume their normal daily chores.
The 6 classic symptoms of chicken pox are –
It takes around 10 days for the body to recover from the illness. In the meantime, the infected person should take sufficient rest and be completely isolated (stay indoors and avoid contact with people). Here is detailed information on 6 classic chicken pox symptoms you should know about.
A visual examination of your rashes and asking about your clinical history (by the doctor) and other symptoms comprises the diagnosis of chickenpox. Although in some cases, the doctor might recommend laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis.
It is usually a self-resolving condition and thus, your doctor will most probably prescribe medicines to help relieve the symptoms. The medications include –
Antiviral drugs: Aciclovir is the common prescription drug that is given to shorten the duration of symptoms. Pregnant women and people with weak immune system are generally recommended this drug.
Antihistamines: Antihistamines are prescribed to relieve itching and swelling. Also, painkillers are recommended to combat pain caused due to bursting of boils.
Antibiotics: They are recommended only if a person develops bacterial infection due to itching. However, these types of infections are very rare.
Here are expert tips to get rid of chicken pox scars.
The symptoms of chickenpox usually subside within 15 days after the symptoms start to appear. Also, the person suffering from this condition develops antibodies against the virus thereby preventing it from occurring again. However in rare cases, the virus remains in a particular nerve ending of the person leading to a painful condition known as shingles.
The varicella vaccine when given to children and adults alike, protects against this virus (The vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing severe cases of chickenpox). However, people with suppressed immune systems, pregnant women, anyone who is allergic to the components of the vaccine, severely ill people or anyone suffering from cancer and has undergone therapies like chemotherapy, radiotherapy etc should not take the vaccine.
Apart from vaccination, following few preventive measures play a key role in protecting against the virus. Here are some –
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after visiting a common or crowded place
- Isolate a person suffering from the disease to prevent its spread
Here are some dos and don’ts, you need to follow when it comes to chicken pox -
- Never scratch the rashes as scratching might cause severe skin infections.
- Take adequate rest as it enhances the recovery process by strengthening your immune system.
- Moisturize the skin with lotion as drying the skin increases the itchiness.
- Add neem leaves to warm water and bath with it, to reduce the itchiness and get rid of any skin infections that might occur.
- To reduce itchiness, soak some oatmeal in warm water and use it for a bath.
- Wash bed-sheets with antibacterial soap and disinfect the mattress of people suffering from chicken pox to prevent further spread of the virus.