Chickenpox is a viral disease that is extremely contagious, and has as its root cause the virus called varicella zoster virus. In most cases, the disease can first be observed as a rash on the skin, usually on the face, head, and then body, with the classic sign being small itchy pockmarked patches or blisters. Chickenpox is spread mainly through airborne transmission such as when an infected person sneezes or else coughs. The disease can also be spread if a person comes into contact with the contagious secretions that are present on the rash. Chickenpox can be found all over the world, and has successfully survived for many generations, even being seen in not just humans but also gorillas and chimpanzees as well. In temperate regions such as North America, chickenpox affects mainly children between the ages of four and ten years. In more non-temperate regions such as the tropics, chickenpox tends to affect older adults and can quickly lead to more complicated and serious medical conditions.
As previously mentioned, chickenpox is caused by the virus called, varicella zoster, and is extremely contagious. To catch the virus, one needs only to either touch the contagious fluid that is present on a blister or else be sneezed or coughed upon by a person who has chickenpox. Additionally, even if a person has the chickenpox virus, especially a mild bout, they can easily not realize they have it, and so unknowingly pass it on to others. As also mentioned, in North America, chickenpox tends to afflict the very young (four- to ten-year olds), with the winter and spring seasons being the times of highest spread of the virus. Thus, it has been suggested that simply being in close contact inside schools day after day, is one of the largest contributing factors to the spread of the virus. Furthermore, if a child has a compromised immune system due to a pre-existing illness or exposure to drugs such as chemotherapy, the risk for getting the virus is greatly increased. However, if a child’s mother has had chickenpox before the child is born, that child will rarely catch the virus before reaching one year of age, because of protective antibodies in the mother’s blood that is passed on to the child during pregnancy.
The symptoms of chickenpox will often present themselves about 2 weeks after point of contact with the virus, and will often unfold in stages. Thus, early signs will be, for example, muscle pain, nausea, headaches, and a lack of an appetite. During the next stage, symptoms become more typical of what we view as chickenpox, such as a skin rash along with sores on or in the mouth, accompanied often by a fever. However, in kids there is usually an absence of the initial signs, with the first symptom being a skin rash and, in all people, the development of red spots and blisters all over the body, including sometimes on the palms of the hands, bottoms of the feet, and even the genitals. Ulcers can also be a symptom, forming inside of the mouth and on the tonsil area, and can actually be just as itchy and painful as the external blisters. Furthermore, after a person contracts the virus, they will turn contagious after only about two days. In contrast to children, adults with chickenpox will experience the skin rash covering a wider area of the body, and any accompanying fever will stay around for a much longer period of time. Also, in adults, future complications are more likely, such as shingles and pneumonia.
Regarding management of chickenpox, prevention is key. For example, hygiene is an essential practice, in terms of preventing the spread of the virus. Thus, quarantining the affected person is strongly encouraged. Also, the virus itself is quite easy to kill, simply by cleaning your immediate environment with heat, bleach, and disinfectants. Another great preventive measure is vaccination. However, one shot of the vaccination does not protect you for life. A booster shot will be required 5 years after the initial shot. Regarding treatment for chickenpox, there is no cure, thus, management of existing symptoms is the only avenue. Thus, for example, making sure not to scratch the blisters and sores is an important practice, as further infections may result, as will possible spreading of the virus to others. Remedies such as calamine lotion (with zinc oxide) have been suggested to ease the itch, and simple acetaminophen can be taken to downgrade the fever. Also, and in particular for use in adults only, antiviral drugs may be used, but must be taken within one or two days after first presence of a skin rash. An antihistamine can be utilized as well, in order to stop itching as well help the person sleep, since antihistamines are known sedatives.