Diseases & Conditions

Chicken Pox

Chicken PoxCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatment

What is Chicken Pox?

Chicken pox or Varicella, is a highly contagious but self limiting illness that is caused due to infection of the body with varicella zoster virus. It starts with noticeable skin rashes on the head and body, gradually becoming itchy with raw pock marks before crusting and healing.

Causes of Chicken Pox

Chicken pox is not as common as it used to be due to the development of the varicella virus vaccine which ahs been incorporated in the universal vaccination program. It occurs in people and children who have not been routinely vaccinated. It mostly occurs in childhood by the age of 15. However, people of any age group can contract it. It is most severe in adults and infants. Spring and winter are the seasons which see the most cases of Varicella.

Medication for Chicken pox

Doctors may prescribe acyclovir (Zovirax). It is an anti viral medicine which is used to reduce the duration of the infection. It is mainly effective if it is started within a day or two of the onset of chicken pox rash.

Prevention of Chicken Pox

Most people who have got chicken pox develop lifetime immunity and never develop it later on in life. However, in some people, Varicella can resurface later in life in the form of shingles. Now days, a chicken pox vaccine is available. The chicken pox vaccine requires only 2 shots – the first one which is administered at 1 year and the second booster dose is given at age 4. Any person can get vaccinated at any point of time. It is recommended that all children, except those with compromised immune systems, should get vaccinated against chicken pox. Vaccination seems to work in 90% of the cases. There has been a 90% decrease in chicken pox incidents. Those who do develop chicken pox symptoms find that complication is significantly lower.

Risk Factors of Chicken Pox

  • Unvaccinated children and adults
  • Direct or indirect contact with persons suffering from chicken pox.

Spread of Chicken Pox

Chicken pox is a highly contagious air borne disease. It can be easily passed from one member of the family to another and in classrooms through droplets in exhaled air, airborne particles and fluid from the sores and blisters. It is also possible to contract Varicella when a person comes in contact with clothing and other things that have been exposed to fluid from open sores. The most contagious period is 5 days before the rash appears and 5 days after that. The person is no longer contagious when the sores develop crusts.

Symptoms of Chicken Pox

Rashes usually appear on the skin 14-16 days after being exposed to the virus but they can appear anytime after the 10th day and up to the 21st day. Chicken pox is typically characterized by one or two days of mild fever, general weakness, skin rashes which appear in crops with red raised spots appearing and progressing to blisters that may burst to form open sores. A crust develops over the sores before falling off, leaving no permanent scars. The process may start on the scalp of the head and spread to the abdomen, arms and legs. The rash that develops tends to be very itchy.

Treatment of Chicken Pox

Most treatments for chicken pox that doctors recommend aim at decreasing the severity of the symptoms such as the unbearable itching. Doctors may prescribe acetaminophen (Tylenol) so that fever and aches associated with chicken pox get reduced. Small children should not be given acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) or cold medications containing aspirin. Frequent oatmeal baths (Aveeno) are recommended which can help ease the discomfiture associated with the itching of chicken pox. Soothing moisturizers and lotions like calamine lotion may be topically applied on the rashes for comfort. Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are also helpful in easing the itching.