Chickenpox – Symptoms, complications, and prevention

Also known as varicella, chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Often the symptoms are mild, and the condition resolves on its own in a few days or in a week or two. However, the virus that causes chickenpox never leaves the body but lies in a dormant state. It can reemerge in the form of shingles when one is in their sixties or seventies.

Once a person is exposed to the virus, the infection begins projecting symptoms within 10 to 21 days. The classic sign of chickenpox is rash that undergoes three phases. Initially, the small pinkish or reddish bumps will form all over the body. These bumps will then turn into fluid-filled blisters. Finally, the broken blisters will heal by forming scabbed lesions. These will take a few more days to completely go away. Apart from the rash, some other accompanying signs and symptoms are fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, and headaches.

In rare cases, the rash can turn severe and spread to the eyes, throat, and genitals. Therefore, one should always consult a doctor when the symptoms start showing to prevent any complications. Some complications that can occur are as follows:

  • Dehydration
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis – brain inflammation
  • Bacterial infections of the bones, joints, blood, skin, and soft tissues
  • Reye’s syndrome
  • Toxic shock syndrome

Infants whose mothers never had chickenpox, pregnant women, people with weaker immune systems due to chronic conditions, children with asthma, and people using steroid medications or immunosuppressants are at a higher risk of developing any complications associated with chickenpox.

The risk of contracting chickenpox is amplified when one hasn’t been vaccinated for chickenpox or has never had chickenpox before. In most scenarios, individuals who have been infected with the varicella-zoster virus are immune. A few people can still develop this condition despite receiving a vaccination or even after being infected once, but this is extremely rare.

Preventing chickenpox
One of the best ways to prevent this condition is by getting the necessary immunizations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chickenpox vaccine is effective for approximately 98% of the people. In instances where the vaccination fails to provide protection from the virus, it manages to alleviate the severity of the chickenpox symptoms.

Chickenpox vaccinations have to be administered in two doses. Young children should be given the first one when they are aged between 12 and 15 months and the second one when they are between the ages of 4 and 6 years. Unvaccinated older children between the ages of 7 and 12 are required to take two shots of the vaccine that are scheduled to be at least 3 months apart. Immunizations for children above 13 need to have a gap of only one month.

Child care employees, health care workers, teachers, international travelers, and adults living with kids must get vaccinated as they are highly prone to this infection. These two doses need to have a gap of at least a month or two.