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What is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox, also referred to as varicella, is characterized by itchy red blisters that appear all over the body. The disease was very common in children until the varicella vaccine was introduced in the mid-90s, which reduced the cases to a great extent. The recommended doses of the vaccine are two doses for children, teens, and non-immune adults.

What Causes Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by the Varicella-Zoster virus (VZV). You can contract chickenpox through contact with an infected person. Chickenpox is most contagious from one to two days before your blisters appear until all the blisters have dried and crusted. The virus is easily passed through:

  • Coughing
  • Saliva
  • Sneezing
  • Contact with fluid from the blisters

What are the Symptoms of Chickenpox?

Initially, chickenpox may seem like other infections. You will feel exhausted and irritable one to two days before the rash develops. Your doctor can confirm that it is chickenpox once the skin rash and blisters appear. The rashes may appear on the face, scalp, trunk, upper arms and legs, armpits and inside the mouth. The rash goes through several phases before you recover. It starts as flat red spots and progresses to raised red bumps that then become blisters filled with fluid that leaks. Finally, the blisters become crusty, scab over and begin to heal. The rash may be very itchy, especially before a scab form.

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

If you are vaccinated against the disease you may get a milder illness with a less severe rash and mild or no fever. Always visit your doctor for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Your doctor diagnoses chickenpox based on a physical examination of the rashes and blisters. Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis with the help of lab tests.

Treatment

Treatment depends on your overall health and medical history, the extent of the condition as well as your tolerance to specific medicines, procedures, or therapies. Your doctor may prescribe topical ointments or antihistamine medications to help relieve itching. Other ways of soothing itching skin include:

  • Taking lukewarm baths
  • Applying fragrance-free lotion
  • Wearing soft, lightweight clothing
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Adequate rest

If you are at risk for adverse effects or are experiencing complications from the virus your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications. High-risk groups include:

  • Young people
  • Older adults
  • Persons with underlying medical issues

Although the medications do not cure the disease, they make the symptoms less severe by slowing down viral activity, which in turn allows your immune system to heal faster.

Please don’t allow your children to scratch the blisters. Doing so could lead to secondary bacterial infections. Keeping fingernails short is the best way to reduce the likelihood of scratching.

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  • American College of Physicians
  • Andrews Research & Education Foundation
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • JJM Medical College