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Chicken pox (varicella): Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About chicken pox (varicella)

Chicken pox, also called varicella is an acute, viral infection which is highly contagious. It is caused by varicella-zoster virus belonging to the herpes group of viruses, and characterised by itchy skin rashes on the body.

Chicken pox (varicella): Incidence, age and sex

Chicken pox is a common disease which may occur in any age group, from a newborn to an adult. However it is more frequently seen in childhood. Children less than 10 years are most susceptible to be afflicted with chicken pox.

Signs and symptoms of chicken pox (varicella): Diagnosis

The symptoms of this infectious disease may take 10-20 days to appear after exposure. The affected person may experience sore throat, headache, malaise and fever. These non-specific symptoms are followed by skin rashes on the face or the scalp which usually spread to the trunk and limbs. These rashes are extremely itchy and may progress to form fluid-filled blisters which form crusts and fall off within a few days. Some individuals may also complain of redness of the skin around the blisters.

Causes and prevention of chicken pox (varicella)

Chicken pox is caused by varicella-zoster virus belonging to the herpes group of viruses. This is a highly infectious disease which can be easily transmitted from person to person either through air or direct contact. An individual with chicken pox is highly infectious 2 days after the appearance of the rash till it crusts and fall off.

This is an exceedingly infectious disease which warrants isolation of the affected individual to prevent further spread. Moreover, it is recommended to vaccinate children against this disease. The chicken pox vaccine can even be given to adults, if needed. The good part of this infectious disease is that it confers life long immunity once an individual has been afflicted with it. Therefore, it is extremely rare to catch chicken pox, a second time.

Chicken pox (varicella): Complications

Chicken pox is a mild disease in most of the cases but a few complications are encountered especially in adults. The children except for newborns are fortunately spared from its complications. The complications may be severe in a pregnant female and may result in premature birth or eye defects, brain damage or scarring of the skin of the foetus. However the frequency of such complications is low. Sometimes, the rashes may get secondarily infected with bacterial infections which need antibiotic treatment. Other complications include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and pneumonia (lung infection).

The virus of chicken pox may remain dormant in the cells of central nervous system and in seldom cases may get re-activated in adulthood. This may result in infection of the nerve cells, presented by pain and rash in the affected area. This disease caused by re-activation of chicken pox virus is called ‘shingles’.

Chicken pox (varicella): Treatment

Chicken pox is a self-limiting disease which gets resolved within a few days. Medications like analgesics may be prescribed for symptomatic relief. Antibiotic medications may be needed in instances of secondary bacterial infection of rashes. Other measures like application of calamine lotion, keeping skin cool and wearing loose clothes may help prevent excessive itching which is characteristic of chicken pox. Scratching of skin which may be seen in children, may result in scarring or even bacterial infection.