The Varicella-zoster virus, commonly known as chickenpox, is a highly contagious virus with many symptoms. Chickenpox was once a common childhood disease, but because a vaccine is now available that prevents infection, the number of cases has dropped drastically. Chickenpox is spread through inhalation of infected droplets in the air. It can take up to two weeks after infection before the highly recognisable chickenpox rash occurs. It is important to understand the symptoms of chickenpox in order to prevent complications.
Around two weeks after infection and before the rash occurs, the patient will experience symptoms similar to cold and flu. Fever, congestion and loss of appetite are common symptoms. This is also when the patient is most contagious. It is extremely dangerous to give a person with these symptoms aspirin. People who receive aspirin while infected with chickenpox can develop Reyes syndrome, a potentially fatal disease. Not every person infected with chickenpox will experience these early symptoms.
Chickenpox patients will develop a characteristic rash. The rash is easily recognised by doctors and is often the only way chickenpox is diagnosed. This rash usually develops around three days after the primary symptoms disappear. The rash consist of small red spots on the trunk and arms. These itchy bumps quickly turn into raised blisters and can spread to other body parts. During the next three days, the blisters will pop and crust over. The virus is contagious until all of the blisters are crusted over, and no new blisters are forming.
Severe itching is a common symptom of chickenpox. It is important that the patient does not scratch the rash. Scratching the rash can cause the bumps to rupture and become vulnerable to outside bacteria. Secondary bacterial infection can slow the healing process. Over-the-counter medications such as benadryl can help with itching. Treat the itching at home by adding a bit of oatmeal to bath water.
Chickenpox in Adults
Adults who become infected with chickenpox experience the same symptoms as children, but have a much higher rate of complications. Encephalitis, joint infection, bone infections and toxic shock syndrome are some complications an adult may experience. Because Varicella-zoster is closely related to the herpes virus, people older than 13 years who have chickenpox symptoms are usually given acyclovir, a medication used to treat the herpes virus. Chickenpox, like herpes, can remain dormant and reappear later in life as herpes-zoster, commonly known as shingles.
If you know you have been exposed to the chickenpox virus, ask your doctor for the chickenpox vaccine. If you are a pregnant women who has never had chickenpox, you can be vaccinated against it. Any person with a weak immune system, such as HIV and leukaemia patients, should also be vaccinated. The vaccination is extremely safe and highly effective.