Chickenpox, caused by a virus, is characterized by a rash. Although it is very common in children, it can occur in older children and adults.
Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The majority of the cases are in children under age 15, but older children and adults can still get it. Chickenpox has become less common since the chickenpox vaccine has been introduced.
The typical symptom of chickenpox is an uncomfortable, itchy rash. The rash turns into fluid-filled blisters and eventually into scabs. It typically takes about one week for all the blisters to become scabs. The rash is usually appears on the face, scalp, chest, and back and then spreads to the rest of the body. Chickenpox is usually mild and lasts 5 to 10 days.
It spreads easily from infected people to those who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox spreads in the air through coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread by coming into contact with or breathing in the virus particles from chickenpox blisters.
After being exposed to a person with chickenpox or shingles, it will take 10 to 21 days for someone to develop chickenpox.
Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
Getting the chickenpox vaccine can help prevent most cases of chickenpox. Some people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can still get the disease. However, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer blisters or no fever.
Once you get chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. You probably will not get chickenpox again, but the virus can cause shingles in adults.
Anyone who has not had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine can get the disease. Chickenpox most commonly causes an illness that lasts about 5-10 days.
The typical symptom of chickenpox is a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs. It usually takes about one week for all the blisters to become scabs. The rash may first show up on the face, scalp, chest, and back then spread to the rest of the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids, or genital area.
Other typical symptoms that may begin to appear 1-2 days before rash include:
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach ache
Children usually miss 5 to 6 days of school or child care due to their chickenpox.
For people with chickenpox at risk of serious complications, call a doctor if the person:
- is older than 12 years of age
- has a weakened immune system
- is pregnant
- develops any of the following:
- fever that lasts longer than 4 days
- fever that is above 102°F (38.9°C)
- any areas of the rash or any part of the body becomes very red, warm, or tender, or begins leaking pus (thick, discolored fluid)
- severe illness
- stiff neck
- frequent vomiting
- having trouble breathing
- severe cough
Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV).
The virus spreads easily from people with chickenpox to others who have never had the disease or received the chickenpox vaccine.
- The virus spreads in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- It can also be spread by coming into contact with or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters.
- Chickenpox can also be spread from people with shingles since Varicella-zoster virus also causes shingles.
- A person with shingles can spread the virus to others who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. In these cases, the exposed person might develop chickenpox.
A person with chickenpox becomes contagious 1 to 2 days before their blisters appear. They remain contagious until all the blisters have crusted over.
Your doctor can usually make a diagnose chicken pox by doing a clinical assessment (looking at your symptoms).
Laboratory tests can help confirm the diagnosis, if needed.
Living With Chickenpox
For most people, getting chickenpox once provides immunity for life. However, for a few people, they can get chickenpox more than once, although this is not common.
The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild with fewer blisters or no fever. If a person is vaccinated for chickenpox and gets the disease, transmission to others is still a possibility.
When managing chicken pox, try the following:
- Avoid scratching or rubbing the itchy areas. Keep fingernails short to avoid damaging the skin from scratching.
- Wear cool, light, loose clothes.
- Avoid wearing rough clothing, such as wool.
- Take lukewarm baths using little soap and rinse thoroughly. Try a skin soothing oatmeal or cornstarch bath.
- Apply a soothing moisturizer after taking a bath to help soften and cool the skin.
- Avoid exposure to excessive heat and humidity for long periods of time.
There are several things that can be done at home to help relieve the symptoms and prevent skin infections.
- Calamine lotion and colloidal oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching.
- Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may be used to relieve itching.
- Keeping fingernails trimmed short may help prevent skin infections caused by scratching blisters.
Use non-aspirin medications, such as acetaminophen, to relieve fever from chickenpox.
- Do not use aspirin or aspirin-containing products to relieve fever from chickenpox. The use of aspirin in children with chickenpox has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, a severe disease that affects the liver and brain and can cause death.
Antiviral medications are not prescribed to everyone but may be given to those:
- otherwise healthy people older than 12 years of age
- people with chronic skin or lung disease
- people receiving steroid therapy
- some groups of pregnant women
Acyclovir, an antiviral medication, is given for the treatment of chickenpox. Other antiviral medications may include valacyclovir and famciclovir. To work well, the medicine usually must be started within the first 24 hours of the rash.
Usually, a person recovers without complications.
Complications from chickenpox can occur, but they are not as common in healthy people. Adults, babies, teenagers, pregnant women, and those with weak immune systems tend to get sicker from it. They may need to take antiviral medicines.
Some people with serious complications from chickenpox can become so sick that they need to be hospitalized. Chickenpox can also cause death.
Most chicken pox will not leave scars unless they become infected with bacteria from scratching.
Once you catch chickenpox, the virus usually stays in your body. You probably will not get chickenpox again, but the virus can cause shingles in about 1 in 10 adults during a period of stress.