Chickenpox

Overview

Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection that produces an itchy, scab-like rash all over those that are infected. Chickenpox is an airborne disease, meaning that it is spread most frequently through direct coughing or sneezing by those infected, and anyone in direct contact with the pox lesions are at high risk for contamination. Even one to two days before the rash appears on the body, a person can be unknowingly contagious. Infected persons remain contagious for about six days or until all lesions crust over. Before chickenpox vaccinations had become routine, almost everyone experienced the disease by the time they reached adulthood. Chickenpox can be very serious for those with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The initial rash is usually the most common warning sign of chickenpox; however, loss of appetite, headache, chills, fatigue, and aching muscles may be present sometimes before the rash presents itself. The rash progresses over the course of ten to twelve hours into raised red or pink bumps, then progresses into fluid filled blisters, eventually becoming scabs, which take a prolonged period of time to heal fully. There is a chance that shallow ulcers may form in the mouth or genital area and adults, particularly adult males, are more likely than small children to experience severe complications, such as pneumonia. Shingles is also a common complication induced by chickenpox. A doctor should immediately be seen if a rash spreads to either or both eyes, or if the rash appears to produce a warm sensation or be tender in nature. Additionally, if a high fever (greater than 103 degrees), dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, any disorientation, or loss of muscle coordination is present, medical help should be sought immediately. Doctors are now able to test blood for evidence of acute immunological responses. A prenatal ultrasound can determine the presence of chickenpox for pregnant women.

Causes

One of the herpes viruses, the varicella zoster virus, causes the chickenpox infection – unlike other viruses linked to ancient civilizations, however, the varicella zoster virus did not have an animal host as the initial carrier. The long-term effects of the varicella vaccine have not yet been conclusively studied.  Continue reading for Prevention information . . .

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