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What Causes Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a common highly contagious illness that is best known for causing a distinctive itchy skin rash. However, chickenpox commonly causes other symptoms such as nausea, muscle pain, fever, headache, sore throat, ear pain, lack of appetite and fatigue. There are rarely serious complications from this illness, but adult males and those with suppressed immune systems are most at risk of complications.

What causes chickenpox?
Chickenpox is caused by a virus known as varicella zoster virus (VZV). This virus is a member of the herpes viruses, but it is not the same virus that causes genital or oral herpes (cold sores). The virus is highly contagious and is spread in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread from direct contact with a chickenpox rash, although once they have crusted over they no longer spread the disease. It takes anywhere from 10-21 days after infection to develop symptoms and it is usually contagious 2-3 days before symptoms occur.

What is the treatment for chickenpox?
There is no cure for chickenpox, but a vaccine is available to prevent the disease before an infection occurs. Painkillers are used to relieve the symptoms and topical cream is used on the rashes. Adults and those with weakened immune systems may be given an antiviral drug, which prevents the virus from multiplying. Those with chickenpox should be isolated during the infectious period.

Did you know?
The virus that causes ckickenpox remains dormant in the nerve tissues of the body. In later life it can be reactivated and cause shingles (herpes zoster).

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