If you have ever asked this question, or want to know anything about the chickenpox infection, this article has all the information you need.
According to WHO, chickenpox also known as varicella, is an acute, highly contagious disease caused by varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which belongs to the herpesvirus family.1 It generally manifests as little itchy fluid-filled spots which heal to leave little spots.
In the next paragraphs, you will learn about the chickenpox infection, including its causes, how to prevent and manage the chickenpox symptoms as well as some interesting home remedies used to remove the sometimes nasty scars left behind by the infection.
Causes of chickenpox
The varicella-zoster virus is the main cause of the chickenpox illness, however, direct contact with an individual who has the rash is another means of transmission.
People with shingles may also transmit chickenpox to those who are not immune when they come in contact with the blisters. This is because the same varicella-zoster virus causes both diseases. Shingles occur because the varicella virus stays in the body after the chickenpox infection, if the individual's immune system becomes compromised, the virus may subsequently reactivate and result in shingles.
In addition to this, when an individual with chickenpox coughs or sneezes and one breathes in airborne droplets, this is another way the virus can be transmitted.2
Additionally, it can be transmitted by touching objects that have blister fluid on them.3
Signs and symptoms of chickenpox
The main symptom of chickenpox is an itchy, spotty rash but some people also experience additional chickenpox symptoms such as
- A raised temperature
- Loss of appetite
- General body weakness/malaise
- Body aches and pains
There are three phases of chickenpox. However, new lesions can develop while others are developing sores or scabs, meaning that one stage must not be over for the next to start, the stages could overlap.
Stage 1: Tiny blemishes emerge
The spots may occur on any part of the body, including the mouth and the region around the genitalia. It may spread widely or remain in a small area and then based on your skin tone, it could be red, pink, darker, or the same shade of skin as the surrounding skin. The spots could generally be more difficult to see on dark skin.
Stage 2: Blisters develop from the marks.
Blisters form when the initial spots swell and fill with fluid. These sores are extremely itchy and could rupture.
Stage 3: In stage three, the sores scab over.
The rashes create a scar. While some scabs release fluid, others are flaky.4
Management and treatment for chickenpox
For mild cases of chickenpox, symptoms are often managed until the illness passes.
- One of the popular methods for relieving the itching is the use of calamine lotion which is a soothing agent with a calming effect on the skin, Calamine lotion, a topical barrier preparation containing zinc oxide, has an excellent safety profile despite the fact that there have been no formal clinical studies assessing its efficacy
- Another method used to relieve symptoms is a cold bath with baking soda, uncooked oats, or colloidal oatmeal added, these are also said to relieve the itching
- It is also important to help prevent skin infections and the spread of the virus to others, this can be done by keeping toenails short and avoiding scratching, the virus can be caught within the nails and be transferred. If you accidentally scratch a blister, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with detergent and water
For management, the NHS recommends soothing measures like;
- The use of over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol to aid the pain, and Avoiding using aspirin or goods containing aspirin to treat chickenpox fever. Aspirin use in kids with chickenpox has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a serious condition that harms the liver and brain and can be fatal. To treat chickenpox fever, use non-aspirin medicines instead, like acetaminophen5
- ooling gels for their soothing relief and antihistamines to reduce the itching. Cool water baths and dressing in loose clothing
- To remove the scars, some home remedies such as a lemon,honey aloe vera mix work wonders, Lemon juice contains a lot of vitamin C, which stimulates the synthesis of new collagen. Its antiviral qualities also penetrate deeply into the skin to help clear up dark spots and lighten the complexion. While aloe vera penetrates deeply into the epidermis, promotes the regeneration of new skin cells, and lightens the spots, honey, which is rich in natural moisturizing qualities, hydrates the skin.6
Doctors occasionally prescribe medications to shorten the duration of the illness and to help lower the risk of complications for people who are at high risk of complications from chickenpox.
Your doctor might advise taking an antiviral medication like acyclovir if you or your kid are highly susceptible to complications. When taken within 24 hours of the first appearance of the rash, this medicine may lessen the severity of chickenpox. Some other antiviral medications may which also lessen the severity of the illness, but they may not be suitable or authorized for everyone.7
In some cases, having the chickenpox vaccine three to five days after being exposed to the virus may be advised by your doctor. This could nip the infection in the bud.
How is chickenpox diagnosed
Most of the time, a clinical diagnosis can be established just based on the chickenpox rash which is recognizable.
However, if there is any confusion about the type of rash, a recent history of chickenpox (or shingles) exposure or cases in close contact may help to determine if the infection is chickenpox8
Although tests are rarely necessary for basic care, laboratory tests such as PCR testing of the blister fluids can be used for confirmation.
How can I prevent chickenpox
Getting the chickenpox vaccine is the best method to avoid getting the disease. It is recommended that everyone who has never had chickenpox or been immunized should receive two doses of the vaccine, and this includes toddlers, adolescents, and adults.
Another way to avoid getting the infection is to avoid people who are already infected. This is more difficult than it sounds because, from one to two days prior to the rash developing, individuals with the virus are contagious and can infect others, this continues into the 14-day median incubation time associated with chickenpox (it normally lasts 10–21 days) and up until the time that all sores have crusted over9
There are now fewer instances of the disease and its complications thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, the vaccine is said to be safe and effective for avoiding the illness. The majority of immunization recipients never contract chickenpox and even if they do, their symptoms are typically milder, with fewer or no blisters and they could experience little to no fever,3 however, note that even in this case they can still spread it to others.
Who are at risk of chickenpox
People who have not received the varicella vaccine: A significant risk of getting chickenpox exists if you haven't received the VZV vaccine and come into contact with the virus. About 90% of unvaccinated individuals who come into touch with the virus will develop the illness.3 The two-dose varicella vaccine has a good level of effectiveness.
Most people get chickenpox as children and once you've had chickenpox, your body develops a lifelong immunity to it, But if you've never had chickenpox, there is a high risk that you will get sick if you come in contact with others who have the illness.
A special class of people who could become seriously ill with this disease are people who are immuno-compromised, pregnant people, and babies.
Can I get chickenpox a second time
Even people who have been infected a first time can be infected again when in contact with people who have shingles or chickenpox, although this is rare. In this case, the illness is likely to be very mild.
Can adults get chickenpox
Although it may be a pediatric disease, adults can also contract chickenpox. Adults are more likely to experience complications from chickenpox than infants, and adult cases are typically more severe. Adults with chickenpox should refrain from going to work until all of their lesions have closed over. In the event that they experience any unusual signs, such as infected blisters, they should consult a doctor.
How common is chickenpox
There are chickenpox cases everywhere in the globe. Globally, there were 140 million instances of shingles and chickenpox in 2013. Prior to regular vaccination, the annual number of cases was roughly equal to the annual number of births. Since vaccination, there have been fewer cases in the US by almost 90%. 6,400 people died worldwide from chickenpox in 2015, much less than 8,900 in 1990.10
When should I see a doctor
The majority of kids who get chickenpox experience a mild sickness that goes away on its own.
However, some kids with chickenpox can develop more severe symptoms and require medical attention. The doctor should be contacted immediately if the child is below 1 year or exhibits any unusual symptoms, such as:4
- Developing a skin infection from the skin blisters
- Feeling of pain in their chest or having trouble breathing
For adults,a health provider should be contacted if the person
- Is pregnant
- Has a weakened immune system due to a condition or medication, examples of such cases are:
- An individual who has cancer or HIV
- A recipient of a transfusion
- A patient receiving treatment, immunosuppressive drugs, or long-term steroid use
Call your doctor if you have a fever that lasts more than four days and is 38.9 degrees or higher.
Chickenpox is a common mild disease caused by the varicella virus which children are more likely to develop, it typically presents as fluid-filled rashes with some fever. Although the chickenpox rarely results in death, adults typically experience more severe symptoms than children. Chickenpox does not have a particular treatment and since it is a viral illness, antibiotics do not help.The illness usually resolves on its own, however in some special cases, it may be necessary to see your healthcare provider.
- Varicella [Internet]. [cited 2023 Feb 28]. Available from: https://www.who.int/teams/immunization-vaccines-and-biologicals/diseases/varicella
- Chickenpox - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Feb 28]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chickenpox/symptoms-causes/syc-20351282
- CDC. Chickenpox prevention and treatment [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 28]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/about/prevention-treatment.htm
- Chickenpox [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 1]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/chickenpox
- Chickenpox [Internet]. NHS. UK. 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 2]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chickenpox/
- Chickenpox scars: super effective diys to clear those ugly marks on the skin [Internet]. Netmeds. [cited 2023 Mar 2]. Available from: https://www.netmeds.com/health-library/post/chickenpox-scars-super-effective-diys-to-clear-those-ugly-marks-on-skin
- Chickenpox - diagnosis and treatment - mayo clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 2]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chickenpox/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351287
- CKS is only available in the UK [Internet]. NICE. [cited 2023 Mar 2]. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/cks-uk-only
- Sarit S, Shruti S, Deepinder C, Chhina RS. Chicken pox outbreak in the Intensive Care Unit of a tertiary care hospital: Lessons learned the hard way. Indian J Crit Care Med [Internet]. 2015 Dec [cited 2023 Feb 28];19(12):723–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711205/
- Pinkbook: varicella | cdc [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 2]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/varicella.html