Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is highly contagious and causes discomfort to individuals; however, most people recover from it within a couple of weeks. Kids are most susceptible to this disease, although adults may get affected by it as well.
How did chicken pox come into being?
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Although it is an ancient disease, the chickenpox causing virus does not have a well-documented history. The earliest mention of the virus is actually to its inactive form known as shingles, also called herpes zoster. The word shingles come from the word cingulus which means belt in Latin, referring to the peripheral nerves of the spine wrapped around the abdomen, where it manifests itself. Although there are several theories, it is not known how it received the name chickenpox.
In the early twentieth century, the correlation between the main disease, chickenpox (varicella), and the appearance of the underlying virus as shingles (zoster) was confirmed, after conducting investigations. During the 18th century, smallpox and chickenpox were often confused to be the same. The two diseases can be distinguished by the rashes.
Chicken pox symptoms include watery boils that accumulate in the trunk region and around the head. On the other hand, smallpox bruises become tough and accumulate on the limbs. Chickenpox lesions are not usually seen on the palms and the feet soles, but in smallpox, these regions are heavily affected. But, lesions can appear in any region of the body for chickenpox and smallpox. Mortality rates are also different for chickenpox and smallpox.
About 30% of smallpox affected patients die, while in the case of chicken pox, it is less than 1%. Rare complications that can be life-threatening can often be seen in pregnant women and children. Bacterial infections arising from the blisters can be potentially life-threatening. Chickenpox virus has better survivability when compared to the smallpox virus, which needs a steady supply of hosts who are not immune to the disease.
How Does it Spread
You can catch the disease by breathing in air that contains blister particles. Also coming into contact with a patient already suffering from chickenpox can lead to you catching the disease. The virus is contagious for up to 2 days preceding the emergence of blisters on the skin, which the most obvious one among the different Chicken Pox Symptoms. It remains contagious until all the blisters have crusted and can be spread through saliva, coughing, and sneezing as well.
It takes about 10-21 days after exposure for the person to develop chickenpox. Even a vaccinated person can get infected and spread the disease. Getting chickenpox once provides lifetime immunity for most people, however, in some cases, it might occur again.
Stages of the Disease
It takes several days for symptoms to develop, after the onset of chickenpox. Below are the various stages of the disease:
Chickenpox can travel via respiratory pathways or through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids or from a chickenpox blister.
An infected person can spread the virus 2 days before they develop chickenpox rashes.
After staying inside the body for 4–6 days, the virus begins to multiply in the lymph nodes.
The average incubation period is 14–16 days.
A person typically starts to develop symptoms of a viral illness about 14–16 days after their initial exposure to the chickenpox virus.
These Chicken Pox Symptoms tend to include tiredness, a runny nose, and a cough.
Several days after a person first experiences symptoms of a viral illness, chickenpox blisters start to appear.
Usually, blisters appear in patients, 10–21 days after the virus entered their bodies.
Once their lesions have crusted over and the fever has cooled down, there is no risk of catching chickenpox from the infected person.
Here are some facts from chickenpox experts:
- Usually, chickenpox is a mild disease but it may be severe in small children and adults with defective immune systems.
- Since its inception, more than 6 million doses of varicella vaccine have been administered.
- Children should be routinely vaccinated at 12-18 months of age.
- The vaccine is also approved for susceptible adolescents and adults especially those with close contact with persons at high risk for serious complications (e.g., healthcare workers, family contacts of immunocompromised persons).
- Contacting chickenpox once usually provides lifetime immunity for that person.
- Almost everyone contracts chickenpox at least once before reaching adulthood.
- The virus is airborne and the disease can be caught by inhaling the particles or through direct contact with an infected person.
- About 90% of the uninfected people in a household will get it, provided they are exposed to an affected family member.
- Chickenpox symptoms can be noticed 10-21 days after coming into contact with an affected person.
- The first one among the chickenpox stages is the itchyrash which forms blisters that dry up and turn into scabs in about a month and a half. A person affected by chickenpox may have 500 blisters all over their body.
- The rashsignals the onset of the illness, often accompanied by fever and a general feeling of awfulness.
- More serious cases of chickenpox are common in adults.
- Varicella vaccine is an effective chicken pox prevention
- In some rare cases, a vaccinated individual may get chickenpox, but it is usually quite mild.
- A blood test can determine if a person was vaccinated or not.
Symptoms Of Chicken Pox
Chickenpox symptoms may include:
- Itchy rashes, preceded by a slight fever.
- The blisters turn into scabs which cause an itching sensation
- low-grade fever
- general discomfort and feeling awful
- In children, chickenpox may often go unnoticed due to its mildness. Most people get vaccinated, so chickenpox in adults is not that common. However, when it does affect an adult, there may be severe complications, including pneumonia.
- The skin rashes are itchy. The blisters first form on the body and later on the head and limbs. After approximately 5 days, they burst and develop crusts.
- Blisters often appear in stages. The trunk is generally more affected than the limbs. It may affect the inside of the nose, mouth, and throat, as well as the scalp.
- Chickenpox is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. In about 2 % of cases, the fetus may turn out to be deformed, when chickenpox occurs during early pregnancy. The infant may get infected, in chickenpox occurs at the time of delivery.
- Shingles occur when the virus reactivates in a person. This occurs when the body loses its immunity and the virus, which had been in a state of rest near the spinal cord, reactivates itself. The children, the elderly, and people who have a weakened immune system are especially susceptible to shingles.
- Shingles are characterized by blistering rashes distributed in the form of bands, accompanied by severe pain. This usually affects the skin near the spinal nerves which carry the virus. The pain may last for weeks.
Usually, no medical tests are needed to diagnose chickenpox, since it can be easily identified from the chickenpox symptoms such as skin rashes. Occasionally, however, it can be confused with other skin diseases such as scabies and insect bites. In these cases, the disease can be asserted by the means of laboratory tests or doing a culture of the lesion samples.
- Getting your child immunized is the best way to prevent chickenpox.
- The chickenpox vaccine is given for free. You should visit your local doctor to get immunized. Although the vaccine is free, the doctor may demand a consultation fee.
- Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are often combined with varicella vaccines.
- You should consult a doctor in case you’re an unvaccinated adult. You may need to undergo a blood sample test for this.
- The vaccine shouldn’t be administered to people who have a history of allergic reactions to it, pregnant women, and those who have had their immunity compromised to a disease.
- One or two days before developing a rash, chickenpox affected patients are considered to be infectious. It’s possible to get chickenpox from a person who doesn’t even know they are sick. To avoid such a mishap, follow hygiene techniques like cleaning your hands with soap before having a meal.
Some more preventive measures
- Avoid people who have contacted the disease.
- Wear gloves while touching objects and surfaces that might be contaminated.
- If a person starts to show chicken pox symptoms while on a ship, they should be confined to their cabins. After the blisters have crusted and new lesions do not appear within 24 hours, they can leave their cabins.
- If one of your family members is affected by chickenpox, consider confining them to a comfortable room where they can get some rest without feeling alienated from the rest of the family.
- Do not use glasses, plates, and cups used by an infected family member. Thoroughly clean the utensils that are used by the sick person.
- Drawer handles, Doorknobs, and chairs can be disinfected using chlorine bleach, but it is safer to use alternatives to bleach. Bleach substitutes such as hydrogen peroxide or oxygen bleach may be used.
- Don’t come into contact with an infected person. Touching your skin to the blisters will surely lead to you catching the disease.
When to see a doctor
For most children, chickenpox is a mild illness that gets better on its own. However, in some cases, children might get severely ill and immediate medical attention may be needed. You should consult the doctor immediately if you chicken pox symptoms such as:
- Infected blisters on the skin
- Chest pain and breathing difficulty
Although for adults, chicken pox is not that common, they may still get it. Symptoms include:
- Body ache
- Sore throat
These may be followed by chickenpox lesions. They usually develop first on the chest, back, or face. Then, they might spread to the inside of the mouth, the eyelids, and the genitals. If an adult starts to experience these chicken pox symptoms, they should immediately consult a general practitioner.
Chickenpox usually exhausts itself in 5 to 10 days. But the itchy rashes and the general discomfort caused by the virus can make it feel like a lifetime. These are the various chicken pox treatment procedures you can follow to ease your pain:
- Use Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for Pain
- If you or your child has a high feveror body ache caused by chickenpox, opt for Tylenol. It can even help relieve pain caused by the sores on your skin or in your mouth. Tylenol is safe for most people, including pregnant women and children over 2 months old.
- Use water as s substitute for sugar-filled drinks, especially if you or your child has chickenpox in the mouth.
- Avoid hard, spicy, or salty foods that can make your mouth sore.
- Prescription Medications
- For a person who smokes, or has HIV, or even for a pregnant woman, the doctor may give you an immunoglobulin injection. It can help prevent severe chickenpox.
- Anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen should not be taken by a person who is affected by chicken pox symptoms. If you have chickenpox, it can make you very ill.
- Don’t scratch the blisters.
- Scratching the rash may lead to a bacterial skin infection. It could also cause scarring. You may tap or pat the blisters to ease the itch.
More tips and remedies
- Taking a cool oatmeal bath can ease your discomfort. Be careful not to rub your skin though.
- Wear loose-fitting garments.
- Medicines such as acyclovir are used as chicken pox treatment for patients whose immunity has been compromised by diseases such as cancer or HIV. You’ll take the first dose within 24 hours of developing the rash. Then you’ll take a tablet 5 times a day for 7 days
- Apply calaminelotion on your itchy spots
- Try an antihistamine, like Benadryl, to ease your symptoms
- Heat and sweat aggravate the itch. Use a cool, wet washcloth on the blisters to calm your skin.
- Drink lots of fluids to help your body rid itself of the virus faster. It’ll also keep you from getting dehydrated.
- Taking high doses of steroid medication might help.
- Newborn babies under 4 weeks old are also at increased risk for severe complications arising from chickenpox.