Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). It is best known for causing an itchy skin rash, but other symptoms commonly seen include: nausea, headache, muscle pain, fatigue and low grade fever. These symptoms usually occur 10-21 days after infection and the condition usually passes without cause long term complications. The virus is an airborne disease and is spread via infected bodily fluids or direct contact with the rash. Children are most commonly affected by this disease and lifelong immunity is acquired after infection. Adults can also catch chickenpox if they did not have the infection during childhood, and are at greater risk of complications. Let’s find out how chickenpox are prevented and treated.
A vaccine for the VZV virus is available and is on the immunization schedule in some countries. It is very effective (70-90%) at preventing the disease in children and adults and extremely effective (95%) at preventing severe forms of the disease. It is not known if the vaccine provides lifelong immunity, but studies show that it protects children for at least 11 years. People who have been vaccinated may still catch the virus, but it will usually be far less severe.
The vaccine is not effective for people who have already been infected. In this case the most common treatment is simply managing the symptoms and making the patient comfortable until the disease passes. Pain medication (paracetamol/acetaminophen) is used for relieving pain and fever and various creams are used for relieving the itchiness. Antiviral medication is effective if it is started early in the infection, but is mostly used for adults because they are at higher risk of complications. In children, antiviral drugs have no effect on the complication rate and only show a small reduction in length of symptoms. It is very important to avoid scratching the rash because secondary infections are common. Nails should be cut short and/or gloves can be used to avoid infection.
Did you know?
A painful condition known as shingles is the most common complication of chickenpox and this is caused by a reactivation of the virus, sometimes long after the initial infection.