Chickenpox (Varicella): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Chickenpox (Varicella): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox is highly contagious to people who have not had the disease or been vaccinated against it. Varicella is an airborne disease which spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of an infected person.

Chickenpox is present with multiple crops of lesions in various stages, from vesicles to crusts, and in severe cases, it can spread to nose, mouth, eyes and even genitals. A characteristic skin rash is formed with small, itchy blisters, which eventually scab over. These usually start on the chest, back, face, and then spread to the rest of the body.

Symptoms of Varicella appear within 10-21 days after coming in contact with a person who has the virus and mainly affects children. However, adults can get it too. Varicella vaccine provides complete protection from the virus for nearly 98 percent of people who receive both of the recommended doses. Also, it is very rare to have the chickenpox infection more than once.

In 2015, chickenpox resulted in 6,400 deaths globally which are down from 8,900 in 1990.

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How Does Chickenpox Affect Your Body?

The body starts fighting against the virus by producing antibodies, once the virus enters it. During this time, the viral cells replicate and attack certain parts of the body. While white blood cells (WBCs) learn to fight the foreign invader, signs of infection start showing up on the body. The varicella-zoster virus, once defeated, may remain in an inactive state in some nerve cells. It may actually affect you later in life in the form of shingles.

What Are The Causes of Chickenpox?

Chickenpox infection is caused by a virus known as varicella-zoster. This virus can spread through direct contact with the rash or, when a person inhales infected air droplets when a patient with chickenpox coughs or sneezes.

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What Are The Risk Factors of Chickenpox?

The risk of chickenpox is higher if:

  • One has not had chickenpox
  • The person has not been vaccinated for chickenpox
  • The mother of a newborn or an infant either has never had chickenpox or has not been vaccinated
  • The immune system is impaired by medication, such as chemotherapy, or another disease like cancer or HIV
  • The intake of steroid medications is high
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What Are The Symptoms of Chickenpox?

Within a day or two, the infected person will develop the telltale chickenpox rash. It unfolds in three phases:

  • During the first phase, itchy, raised, pink or red bumps are developed. As many as 250 to 500 of them can pop up all over the body.
  • Over the next several days, these bumps will turn into small, fluid-filled blisters called vesicles and last about a day before they pop and start to leak.
  • In the last stage, these open wounds crust over and turn into scabs. As they heal, new bumps continue to appear and can spread the virus to other people until all the spots crust over.

How is Chickenpox Diagnosed?

  • Chickenpox is diagnosed based on the telltale rash.
  • It may be confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing of the blister fluid or scabs, only during unusual cases.
  • In case of doubt, Varicella can be confirmed with blood tests or a culture of lesion samples.
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How to Prevent And Control Chickenpox?

  • The chickenpox vaccine is an effective way to prevent chickenpox and its possible complications.
  • Young children should be vaccinated.
  • Children between 7-12 years of age should receive two catch-up doses of the varicella vaccine, given at least three months apart, if not vaccinated.
  • Adults who have never had chickenpox or been vaccinated, usually receive two doses of the vaccine (four to eight weeks apart).

Treatment of Chickenpox – Allopathic Treatment

Medications involved in the treatment of Varicella are –

  • Calamine lotion to help with itching.
  • Paracetamol (acetaminophen) to help with fevers.
  • Antiviral medication (acyclovir) to help with increased complications.
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Treatment of Chickenpox – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Aconitum – This remedy responds well, especially when the patient suffers from symptoms like increase of thirst, high fever, and weakness.
  • Belladonna – Belladonna is prescribed when the patient experiences symptoms like red face, severe aches in head and body, drowsiness etc.
  • Rhus Tox – Children who suffer from intense itching have generally prescribed this medicine.
  • Antinomian Crud – To treat white coated tongue which is the most common characteristic in children, and also works well on the children who encounter symptoms like itching pimples and rashes from the exposure to heat, right after a bath.
  • Apis – This is advised when children experience severe itching from heat and feel relieved in the exposure to cool places.

Chickenpox – Lifestyle Tips

  • Do not scratch when feeling itchy; it can cause scarring, slow healing and can increase the risk of infecting the sores.
  • Fingernails should be trimmed and gloves should be used before itching and scratching the skin.
  • Apply calamine lotion dabbed on the spots to help ease itching.
  • Drink orange juice to strengthen the immune system.
  • Avoid aspirin as it can lead to a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Chickenpox?

No specific exercises are recommended for patients with chicken pox.

Chickenpox And Pregnancy- Things to Know

  • Chickenpox during pregnancy can result in a baby with low birth weight and birth defects, such as limb abnormalities.
  • A serious, life-threatening infection in a newborn may occur if the mother develops chickenpox in the week before birth or within a couple of days after giving birth.
  • If the pregnant woman is not immune to Varicella, talking to a doctor is necessary to know about the risks.

Common Complications Related to Chickenpox

  • Bacterial infections of the skin, soft tissues, bones, joints or bloodstream (sepsis)
  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Reye’s syndrome for people who take aspirin during chickenpox
  • Post-vaccination, the Varicella-zoster virus stays in nerve cells and may get activated in later years. This can lead to shingles. During such a case, doctors recommend a vaccine for shingles for adults over 60.

FAQs

Q. What does breakthrough disease look like?

A. The breakthrough disease is a very mild case of chickenpox with fewer lesions lasting only a few days, with low or no fever, and a few other symptoms.

Q. How long is a person with chickenpox contagious?

A. Patients with chickenpox are contagious for 1 to 2 days before the rash appears and continue to be contagious through the first 4–5 days or until all the blisters are crusted over.

Q. How are chickenpox and shingles-related?

A. Chickenpox and shingles, both are caused by the same virus. When a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains in the body permanently. This may develop into a disease known as herpes zoster, or shingles, in the later years. This is a very rare case; only one-third people experience it.

Q. How is this vaccine administered?

A. The chickenpox vaccine is a shot given in the fatty tissue of the upper arm.

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