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Chickenpox: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

symptoms of chickenpox

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a viral infection caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV, also known as chickenpox virus). It is an extremely contagious disease which mostly affects kids. According to a 2015 study published in the British Medical Journal of Clinical Evidence[1], more than 90% of unvaccinated people can become infected with the virus during their lifetime. In India, it is reported that more than 80% of people have been infected with the virus by the age of 20 – 30 years[1]. It is usually a mild and self-limiting disease but can lead to severe health complications in people with low immunity or infants. Here’s everything you need to know about chickenpox including the causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Chickenpox Causes And Its Risk Factors

This virus Varicella zoster causes chickenpox infection. It mostly spreads due to close contact with an infected person. The virus can spread through a cough, sneezing, saliva or contact with the blisters or the fluid on the skin. The virus is contagious from a day or two before the symptoms of chickenpox start to appear till the blisters become dry and have crusted over.

You may be at high risk of getting infected with the chickenpox virus if you have not contracted the infection in your life. The risk increases if you:

-Haven’t been vaccinated for the infection

-Have been in contact with an infected child or adult

-Are an adult who is living with an infected child

-Have spent time in a school or child care facility

-Have low or compromised immunity due to illness or the use of medications

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What Are The Symptoms Of Chickenpox?

The symptoms of chickenpox usually appear 7- 10 days after you are exposed to the virus. The first sign could be a generalized feeling of being sick which is followed by an itchy rash, tell-a-tale symptoms of chickenpox that appears a day to two after you get the first symptom. The common symptoms of chickenpox include:

-Fever (a slight increases in body temperature which usually stays for a week)

-Bodyache

-Fatigue (feeling of extreme tiredness)

-Irritability

-Loss of appetite

-Headache

It is usually a day or two after these symptoms start to appear that you might notice the classic skin rash of chickenpox. This rash might appear as red or pink bumps on the skin which turn into blisters filled with fluid. These blisters break open which causes the fluid to leak and then becomes crusted. These blisters then scab over as they begin to heal. The rash might become extremely itchy, especially before it starts to scab over. You may experience new bumps on the skin throughout the course of the infection all over the body including the mouth, eyes, anus, and genitals. However, the severity and the number of new bumps might decrease over time as the condition starts to heal.  

One should keep in mind that it is during this phase that the condition becomes contagious. Unless the blisters on your body have scabbed over and the crust has fallen off, you are still contagious. Hence, avoid touching the person who is infected as the viral particles present in the scabs can also increase your risk of infection. It usually takes a week or two for the blisters to dry and disappear completely.

Chickenpox: When To Go To A Doctor?

In most cases, the symptoms of chickenpox are usually mild and often go away on their own. However, visiting a clinician and early start of therapy may lead to slow progression and early resolution of disease. There are times, especially in adults, when the symptoms of chickenpox become severe and may fail to show any signs of improvement. In such a case it is wise to consult a doctor to get it treated. You must see a doctor if you experience symptoms such as:

-Vomiting

-Shortness of breath

-Rash on the eyes

-The stiffness of the neck

-High fever (over 102 F)

-Bacterial infection

-Loss of muscle control

-Dizziness

Usually, chickenpox can be easily identified. Your doctor may just look at the blisters and skin rash in addition to taking clinical history to confirm your diagnosis.

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Chickenpox Treatment: What You Need To Know?

Chickenpox usually runs its course of a week or 10 days. It mostly does not require any specific treatment, however, you should consult your doctor for any treatment required. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a few things that you can do at home to improve the symptoms of chickenpox and prevent skin infections. This includes applying calamine lotion to ease itchiness or taking a cool bath with uncooked oatmeal to relieve itching as scratching the skin can increase the risk of bacterial infection.

It is advised to not use OTC medications such as aspirin for fever as it is associated with Reye’s syndrome in kids. It is a severe disease that affects the brain and may even cause death. Also, avoid the use of anti-inflammatory painkillers without consulting your doctor as it can increase the risk of severe skin infections[3].

In adults and those with severe symptoms of chickenpox, doctors might prescribe antiviral medication as it can make the symptoms less severe and improve the condition. However, ensure to follow the course of the treatment and do not self-medicate.

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In India, more than 30% of persons above the age of 15 years of age are susceptible to chickenpox[2]. Although routine infant vaccination has substantially reduced transmission of wild-type varicella, chickenpox vaccination is not a part of the Indian Universal Immunisation Program. Hence, get vaccinated for chickenpox if you have not yet as it can significantly lower the risk of suffering from an infection. Moreover, it is one of the safe and effective option to prevent chickenpox infection. Do consult your doctor for getting advice on vaccination.

(The article is verified by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)

Recommended Reads:

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5 Common Skin Problems In Kids + Tips That Can Help

References:

1. Cohen J, Breuer J. Chickenpox: treatment. BMJ Clin Evid. 2015 Jun 15;2015.

2. Meyers J, Logaraj M, Ramraj B, Narasimhan P, MacIntyre CR. Epidemic Varicella Zoster Virus among University Students, India. Emerg Infect Dis. 2018 Feb;24(2):366-369.

3. Chickenpox (Varicella).  Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

4. Guidelines for vaccination in normal adults in India. Indian J Nephrol. 2016;26(Suppl 1):S7–S14.

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