Chickenpox is the common term for a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It causes an unpleasant infection that’s most commonly known for the blister-like rash that covers the body. It’s also accompanied by itching, fever and fatigue.
In healthy children, chickenpox lasts for five to 10 days and then begins to go away on its own. However, it can be dangerous in people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly and infants. In the past, chickenpox would cause millions of infections and more than 10,000 hospitalizations every year, but a vaccine for the disease has changed the current situation for chickenpox in childhood.
Though it’s often not a serious disease, one of the most interesting aspects of chickenpox is how highly contagious it is. If you’ve never had chickenpox, simply being around another person with chickenpox while they’re coughing, sneezing, breathing or touching you is enough to pass along the disease.
A person with chickenpox can even spread the disease one or two days before the spots appear, and they can continue to spread it until after scabs have formed on all the blisters. People with an active shingles infection, which is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, can also give chickenpox to someone who has not had it. If there’s any good news about this easy transmission, it’s that you are usually immune for life once you’ve had chickenpox.
Prevention and Treatment of Chickenpox
Far and away the best method of prevention is to get the chickenpox vaccine, or ask a health care provider about the vaccine for your child. It is usually administered in two doses. Almost no one who receives the vaccine gets chickenpox. And in the rare instance that it does occur, the symptoms are generally mild.
Most children with chickenpox can be treated with at-home therapies. Calamine lotion and colloidal oatmeal baths can help soothe the skin, and acetaminophen can help relieve pain. Keep a careful eye on symptoms and contact a doctor immediately if you notice a high fever or a fever that lasts more than four days, blisters that are larger, more red or oozing pus or other alarming symptoms such as vomiting, severe cough or difficulty breathing.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Chickenpox vaccine protects children against more than the chickenpox.