Chickenpox is a condition characterized by red and itchy blisters that appear in the whole body. It mostly affects children. The condition used to be so common that it was dubbed a rite of passage for children. It is also referred to as varicella.
Hicken pox cases have declined since the mid-1990s when the chickenpox vaccine was introduced. It’s almost impossible for one to contract this condition more than once.
The major symptom associated with chickenpox is an itchy rash. The period usually lasts for seven to 21 days in the body before the rash can manifest itself. Just 48 hours before rash manifestation, one becomes contagious to the people around them and it becomes easy to spread the condition.
Besides the rash, other symptoms which may last for several days also appear. They include:
- Loss of appetite
One or two days after experiencing the above symptoms, the main symptom, the rash, begins to develop. There are three phases that the rash has to go through before one can recover. They are:
- Pink or red bumps will appear all over the body
- The bumps are filled with a leaking fluid. They become blisters.
- Towards the end, the bumps turn into crusty and scab over. They then begin to heal.
Not all the bumps will be at the same level at the same instant. There will be new bumps that will appear continuously throughout the period of the infection. Right before the rash becomes crusty and starts scabbing over, it will become extremely itchy.
You will remain contagious until all the blisters have turned into a crust and scabbed over. Eventually, all the crusty and scabbed over areas will fall off. They will take seven to fourteen days to completely disappear.
The chickenpox infection is caused by a virus referred to as Varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The majority of the cases occur after one has been in contact with an already infected person. The virus remains in the body for about one to two days before it becomes contagious. Your blisters have to appear first before this can happen. It is not until all blisters have died down that the virus ceases to become contagious.
The virus can be spread through the following means:
- Contact with the fluid emanating from the blisters
How is Chickenpox Spread?
The short answer is, “very easily.” The spread of the virus almost always happens without anyone knowing since it takes place before the rash can appear. It may also continue to spread until all the blisters have healed.
- The VZV gets into the body through the mouth or the nose. It goes through a two to three-week incubation period once you have had contact with an infected person.
- The air is the main way for the virus to spread and it can survive or several hours. One can contract the virus by being in the same room with an infected person, or one in which an infected person has been recent.
- It can also spread if one comes into physical contact with someone who’s already infected that’s touching the virus itself. This happens when you touch the liquid from a blister, a wet crust or the bister.
- An expectant woman with the virus can also pass it on to her unborn child before it is born.
- Newborn babies can also contract the virus from their infected mothers after birth.
If a family member has chickenpox, there is a high probability that it will spread to the rest of the family members, especially those who are yet to receive the chickenpox vaccine or who have not already had chickenpox before.
Chicken cannot survive on anything else other than live flesh.
Can Chickenpox Lead to Further Complications?
Birth defects can occur in children who contract the virus from their mothers before they are born. These defects include brain damage, eye problems, and skin scars. Some body parts may not be fully formed like the legs and arms.
For babies who have lived for less than a month, chickenpox may lead to severe and even life-threatening complications. The same applies to adults, adolescents and to anyone who has issues with their immune system. Inflammation of the brain and pneumonia may occur in children with chickenpox. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs.
Infection of the blisters with bacteria may lead to scars that may last for your entire lifetime. Most of these infections are not as serious and they even disappear on their own. Others, however, may lead to necrotizing fasciitis, also referred to as “flesh-eating disease.” This is a serious illness.
Can You Suffer from This Condition Twice?
Cases, where one has contracted chickenpox twice, are very rare. This only happens if they were quite young when they first had chickenpox. In the majority of the cases, chickenpox only attacks once. This condition is referred to as life-long immunity.
Who’s at Risk of Developing Chickenpox?
Vaccination or prior exposure to the virus through active infection reduces the risk of one being infected. A pregnant mother can pass immunity from the virus on to her unborn child before birth. The immunity is effective for approximately three months before birth.
Anyone is at risk of contracting the virus if he or she have not been exposed previously. The following conditions may lead to increased risk of contracting the virus:
- Having been in contact with an infected person recently
- Being aged 12 years and below
- A mature person living with children
- Spending time in a child care facility or in a school
- Illness or medications that have led to issues with your immune system
How is Shingles Different from Chickenpox?
Shingles are painful rashes on the skin that is also caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles are also referred to as herpes zoster or zoster. Having chickenpox before does not guarantee that you will not suffer from shingles. This is because the virus responsible for chickenpox lies dormant in the nerve roots for many years, only to reactivate later. Though this rarely happens, experts believe that it is triggered by conditions of stress or by a weak immune system. It still remains a mystery to scientists why this virus reawakens. In some people, it never reactivates.
In the US, approximately one-third of the population suffers from shingles at one point during their lives. the majority of the cases occur in men and women who are aged 60 years and more.
Though shingles are less contagious than the more dangerous chickenpox and cannot also be transmitted from a person to another, it is possible for the varicella-zoster virus to move to someone who is yet to be infected with chickenpox from one suffering from shingles. The unlucky recipient of the virus will not develop shingles. They might develop chickenpox.
Can My Child Suffering from Chickenpox Attend School or Go to Child Care?
Most schools, as well as daycare centers, have adopted a strict policy that requires infected children to remain at home until the rash disappears and also add 5 more days for safety purposes. This, unfortunately, does not curb the spread of the chickenpox virus.
1 to 2 days before appearing of the rash, chickenpox is usually contagious. However, it is most contagious between the 12-24 hours before it appears. Quarantine from other children who are yet to be infected is not effective since the virus is already passed on to the rest of the children by the time it is known that a child is infected with the virus.
If the virus has weakened your child so much that they cannot participate in regular activities or they have a fever, staying at home would be best. For the mild cases (less than 30 spots, low fever that doesn’t last long, and a little rash), your child can attend school or go to a child care center if the facility permits them or if they have the energy to take part in activities.
What Happens If I’m Pregnant?
Severe chickenpox can harm pregnant women. Antibodies in the blood help to protect most adult women from chickenpox. Make sure to be vaccinated first if you have not previously had chickenpox and are thinking of getting pregnant. Call your doctor immediately if you have been exposed to chickenpox while you are pregnant and if you haven’t had it before. Your doctor might give you VariZIG, a special injection which will prevent a severe infection from happening.
There is only a 2% chance of chickenpox harming your body if you catch it in the early stages of your pregnancy.
How to Protect My Child?
Vaccination is the best way of protecting your child.
If your child, who is yet to be vaccinated, comes into contact with the chickenpox, immediate vaccination can help to prevent him from contracting the virus.
If your child suffers from immune system disorders and comes into contact with VZV call your doctor immediately. He will give your child VariZIG, a unique immune globulin. It has a large number of antibodies which help to prevent infection. Early treatment with a drug (antiviral) might also be an option.
How is Chickenpox Diagnosed?
Unexplained rashes, especially those accompanied by fever or cold symptoms may indicate chicken pox. You should call your doctor if you notice these symptoms. You may also be suffering from other conditions. Inform your doctor if you have come into contact with chickenpox while pregnant.
A physical examination of the blisters on your child’s body or in your body will assist the doctor to diagnose chickenpox. Lab tests can also be used to confirm why the blisters have manifested.
Call your doctor immediately if:
- Your eyes are infected by the rash
- The rash becomes tender, warm and very red. These signs indicate a secondary bacterial infection.
- Shortness of breath and dizziness accompany the rash.
The following are most affected by the arising complications:
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
- People who have weak immune systems
These people are also at a risk of contracting bacterial infections of the bones, joints or skin and VZV pneumonia.
Pregnant women who were exposed to chickenpox may give birth to children with the following defects:
- Small head size
- Poor growth
- Eye problems
- Intellectual disabilities
Treating this condition might involve simply managing your symptoms while waiting for the passing of the virus through your system. Children will be required to stay away from schools or daycare centers so as to prevent spreading the virus. Adults with chicken will also have to stay at home.
Prescription medications may include antihistamines or topical ointments. They help in relieving itching. You may also purchase them over the counter. You can also soothe your etching skin by:
- Applying unscented lotion
- Taking lukewarm baths
- Wearing soft and lightweight clothing
If further complications arise, or maybe you are at risk of more severe effects, antiviral drugs may help to ease the effects. People with other medical issues are at higher risk, as well as the young and older adults. The antiviral drugs slow down viral activity and hence make symptoms less severe. This gives your immune system more time to heal. However, they are not a cure for chickenpox.
What’s the Long-Term Outlook?
The body has the ability to clear most of the issues associated with chickenpox. It takes about two weeks to resume normal activities after diagnosis. Most people develop natural immunity from the disease once they heal. In a healthy person, VZV lays dormant and it thus does not reactivate. It may reemerge, in extremely rare cases, to cause chickenpox once more.
Shingles, also caused by VZV, is more likely to occur during adulthood. If the immune system weakens, VZV reactivates once again to cause shingles. This mostly happens when one has a debilitating illness. Advanced age is also a factor.
How to Prevent Chickenpox?
The two recommended doses of the chickenpox vaccines help to prevent the disease in 98% of the people who receive them. Make sure that your child gets the doses between 12 and 15 months after birth. Between 4 and 6 years, children receive a booster.
Catch-up doses of the vaccine may be administered for children and older adults who have been exposed or who are yet to be vaccinated. You may opt to get your vaccine shot later in life since chickenpox tends to have more severe effects in older adults than in young adults.
You can also try to limit your contact with the virus if you are unable to get the vaccination. This can, however, be difficult. Blisters cannot be used as a sign of chickenpox until it has already spread to others for some days.
Tips on What to Do When You Have Chickenpox
The following 6 tips will help to walk you through the difficult moment when chickenpox attacks:
Don’t Panic. Keep in mind, you’re the adult! It is always devastating to see my kids get down with an illness, or get hurt but I never let them see my worry. If I panic, I am certain that they will too!
Cancel Everything. Don’t go to work, daycare is also out, avoid being in public, cancel all family events. It is not possible to account for everyone, however much you may want your kid to get done with chickenpox. Keep yourself busy finding out how you can entertain the kids and also yourself within your house and garden. Wait until the period is over to take them out again.
Keep the Kids Cool and Hydrated. Since chickenpox is accompanied by high fevers, try your best to manage the situation by stocking up on ice pops and ice cream. Also, follow the right dosage of paracetamol according to your child’s age. To avoid dehydration, get as such fluids into their systems as you can if their appetite is highly affected.
Use Anti-Itch Lotion. Calamine lotion is recommended for chickenpox and sunburns. However, there are better products in the market right now. For instance, ViraSoothe was made specifically for children. It has a spray and a clear gel that helps to prevent the itchy feeling.
Keep Everything Clean. Assign a specific facecloth and a towel for your sick child. Wash them regularly. The same applies to PJs and bedclothes. Change and wash them often, both to prevent spreading of spots and for the comfort of your child.
Bathe Them Often. When your child has chickenpox, bathe them with cool or tepid water. That is all they can handle at the moment. Bathing helps to prevent further infection by keeping the spots clean.
Avoid scratching the blisters and red spots since they can become inflamed, itchy and infected with bacteria. This can as well lead to further infections and cause scarring. ViraSoothe soothes the skin and relieves the affected areas. It also kills the urge to scratch. You can also use other soothing gels.
Natural Remedies for Chickenpox
Don’t Scratch Itchy Skin
This is the top rule in treating chickenpox. Avoid, as much as possible, scratching the blisters, red parts and scabs. This is the best thing you can do during the healing process of chickenpox rash. Scratching or picking at a chickenpox rash leads to worsening of the situation and also prolongs the symptoms. It may also lead to infections, add to scabbing of the skin and scarring may also increase. Putting gloves over their hands as well as their children’s hands have helped some people to prevent unaware scratching while sleeping.
Apply a Cool Compress to Soothe Inflammation
When your skin becomes swollen, red or very itchy, use a natural and soft fabric like cotton to apply a cold and damp compress to the skin. This is a basic treatment for chickenpox. Stay away from heat and ice; they should not come into direct contact with your skin.
Take an Oatmeal Bath
Oatmeal has natural qualities that calm your skin. You can use this to reduce itchiness, and skin dryness associated with chickenpox. Oatmeal has a wide range of advantages including soothing properties and relief for all types of skin irritations. This includes contact dermatitis.
To your warm bath (not hot) add uncooked colloidal oatmeal (well ground oats that form a fine powder used for soaking) or oatmeal. These provide relief for that itchy feeling. Soak in this bath for approximately 10 to 15 minutes or even longer, if it feels good. Another treatment option is applying topical colloidal oatmeal lotions to the skin directly.
Apply Baking Soda, Vinegar, Antihistamine or Honey Lotion to the Skin
Baking soda is a cheap and widely available ingredient that has to soothe skin inflammations and has anti-itch properties. It helps to reduce irritation that arises from rashes as well as neutralizing the acids found in the skin. Baking soda should not be used if the skin is broken, bleeding or raw. It should be applied in small amounts.
Create a paste of baking powder in a small amount of warm water or you can also dissolve it. You do this by adding just a teaspoon of baking soda to the water. Dab the paste with a cloth n the skin. First, use the paste on a small part of the body to make sure that it doesn’t contribute to adverse effects. Once applied, leave the solution to dry.
Raw honey has some amazing benefits like calming inflammations on the skin.it also promotes faster healing as well as reducing the risk of scarring. Heat raw honey to high temperatures while ensuring that the active ingredients remain constant. Cover the infected part with a thin layer of warm honey and leave it to dry for 15 minutes. Do this two to three times a day.
Raw apple cider vinegar also has the same effects as honey. Add 1 cup of it to a bath. Do not apply it to broken skin, however.
Use Jojoba Oil and Neem Oil
Neem oil is known to reduce clustering of blisters, pain, itching, and scarring associated with chickenpox. The most active compound is azadirachtin, as well as others that include vitamin E and fatty acids. Neem oil is also very beneficial to the general health of your skin even after your chickenpox has passed. You may want to keep it in your house. It also helps to soothe the swollen and inflamed skin. It also contains antioxidants such as quercetin and carotenoids.
Combine these two oils such that for a half ounce of pure neem oil (organic) there are 8 ounces of jojoba oil, also organic. Mix the ingredients well and gently apply to the infected part of your skin. Use this treatment method twice a day.
Do not use undiluted neem oil on the skin because it can be extremely strong. Make sure that you combine it with a carrier oil. Once again, try it first on a small part of your skin to test whether it will produce adverse reactions.
Apply Soothing Essential Oils
You can add lavender essential oil to the above recipe. It will help to provide more relief from itching as well as promote faster healing. Lavender oil boasts of numerous ingredients that soothe discomfort and increase the rate of the healing process. It also contains mild chemicals such as linalool and linalyl acetate, which promote healing and general skin health.
Eat Soft, Bland Foods and Stay Hydrated
Chickenpox may cause loss of appetite, fever, nausea, and vomiting which may lead to dehydration. You can prevent dehydration by simply taking in a lot of fluids. These include herbal tea and just plain water. Also eat plenty of hydrating food, such as fruits and vegetables. Look out for kid friendly anti inflammatory recipes here.
The main purpose of a bland diet is to prevent the feeling of nausea while one has chickenpox. Try to stay away from heavy, highly processed and spicy foods. Foods that are rich in nutrients will help to boost your immune system as well as the ability to fight off the VCV virus quickly. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E among all antioxidants should be your top priority.
If while suffering from chickenpox, sores develop in your mouth, eat soft and easily digestible foods. They should not cause any pain while swallowing them. Some of the best foods that you should eat during this period include:
- Bone Broth
- Light soups
- Pureed vegetables
- Fruit smoothies
- Mashed sweet potatoes
Antiviral Herbs and Supplements
The following antiviral drugs and supplements will help to boost your immune system and also support your recovery process if you have chickenpox.
- Vitamin C
- Astralagus root
Take Over-the-Counter Pain Medications
If the fever becomes too high or other symptoms arise, such as headaches, a stiff neck or body aches, an OTC painkiller may help to relieve the discomfort associated with such symptoms. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are some of the safest options. Aspirin should never be taken if you have chickenpox. It may lead to severe complications such as Reye’s syndrome. It should not be given to your children as well.
Swelling and body aches can be taken care of by natural painkillers such as Epsom salts and peppermint essential oil. An OTC antihistamine, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can help with inflamed and very itchy skin. In addition, you can also apply some antihistamine lotion to the itchy parts of the skin, for example, calamine lotion. It’s a pink lotion that is commonly applied to mosquito bites.
Precautions When Treating Chickenpox
As earlier mentioned, rarely does chickenpox require medical intervention. Its treatment is usually straightforward. In extreme cases, however, immediate medical attention is necessary. These extreme cases include if the person is a nursing mother, if they are pregnant, younger than six months or their immune system has some problems.
If you notice any of the following signs, it is highly recommended that you call your doctor immediately. You may also have to visit the emergency room because these signs are very serious and they are associated with chickenpox.
- A rash that gradually develops into an infection. It becomes tender, very swollen or very painful.
- High fever (it could be higher than 38.9 C or 102 F)
- Neurological changes and problems
- Very stiff neck, rapid heartbeat, disorientation, shortness of breath, severe vomiting, dizziness or tremors
How to Prepare for Your Appointment
Call the family doctor if your child, or yourself, begins showing signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with chickenpox. The information below will help you to get ready for the appointment with your doctor.
You will need to gather some information in advance
Pre-Appointment Restrictions. You should inquire if there are some restrictions that should be followed such as isolation from family members in order to avoid spreading the virus before it is time for your appointment.
Symptom History. Note down all the symptoms that have manifested either in you or in your child including the tie that they have lasted.
Recent Exposure to the Virus. Try to remember if you might have come close to someone with the chickenpox recently.
Key Medical Information. Include all other health problems that you are currently facing and the medications that you are currently taking.
Questions to Ask. Note all the questions that you may have so that you can make the most out of your appointment.
What to Do in the Meantime
As you await your appointment, you can use acetaminophen to reduce your fever. Before recommending nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) medications such as ibuprofen consult your doctor. This type of medication may lead to tissue damage or secondary infections.
Have as much rest as you can an avoid contact with the public. Until the skin lesions have fully crusted, chickenpox remains highly contagious.