Chicken Pox Facts

Chickenpox (medically known as varicella) is a common illness, caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The disease is common in children, and is easily spread from one child to another. Learn more about this common childhood condition with these chickenpox facts.

Symptoms

Chickenpox has a number of symptoms.

  • Rash. A red, itchy rash normally appears on the face, scalp, chest and back. The rash initially resembles insect bites, and the red bumps are known as papules.
  • Blisters. Small, liquid-filled blisters appear, which break open and then crust over. These are known as vesicles.
  • Other. Patients normally experience general feelings of malaise, including fever, loss of appetite, headache, and cough.

The initial papules may start to appear over a period of several days, which means that patients may have papules and vesicles simultaneously.

Serious cases

In healthy children, the symptoms of chickenpox are normally quite mild. It is possible for the rash to cover the entire body, however, and lesions may also appear on different parts of the body. You should let your doctor know if the rash spreads to the eyes or if it becomes warm or tender (indicating a bacterial infection). Contact your doctor if the rash is accompanied by other severe symptoms too, such as a high temperature, rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath. Chickenpox may be more serious if a member of your family is immune deficient.

Treatment

In healthy children, chickenpox will not normally require treatment. A doctor may prescribe an antihistamine to relieve the itching. Patients with a high risk of complications are sometimes prescribed an antiviral drug. This can help shorten the duration of the disease, and reduce the risk of further complications. If you have been exposed to the virus, a doctor may recommend the chickenpox vaccination to prevent infection or to lessen the severity of any subsequent infection.

Complications

Patients in high-risk groups, such as pregnant women or newborns, may suffer more serious complications. These patients commonly experience a bacterial infection of the skin. More rarely, chickenpox can lead to pneumonia or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Anybody that has been infected with chickenpox is also at increased risk of contracting shingles. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and causes a painful band of blisters to appear on the body. Shingles normally affects adults, and a vaccine is available.

Vaccination

Vaccination against chickenpox is now common. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control estimates the vaccination offers complete protection for 90 percent of children that are vaccinated. Even when the vaccination doesn't provide complete protection, it will normally reduce the severity of the infection. The vaccine is not suitable for pregnant women or for people with a weakened immune system. Your doctor will be able to advise whether the chickenpox vaccination is suitable for you.

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