Chickenpox was once considered a rite of passage for most children, before the vaccine became available.
Chickenpox was once considered a rite of passage for most children, before the vaccine became available. However, when chickenpox does occur, it's highly contagious among people who aren't immune. Most people think of chickenpox as a mild disease — and, for most, it is. But, there's no way to know which infected child or adult will develop a severe case.
Fortunately, the chickenpox vaccine is a safe, effective way to prevent chickenpox and its possible complications.
The best-known signs of chickenpox are:
The chickenpox rash occurs in three stages. First, there are raised pink or red bumps (papules). These bumps will turn into fluid-filled blisters (vesicles). And, finally, the vesicles will crust over and scab. It's possible that all three of these stages may occur at once.
The rash may be preceded by or accompanied by:
Common sites for the rash include the face, scalp, chest and back. The rash can also spread across your entire body, even into your throat, eyes and vagina. New spots continue to appear for several days. In healthy children, the disease is generally mild.
Chickenpox, which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is highly contagious to people not immune to it. The disease spreads quickly, especially in locations where people are in close contact, such as child care facilities, schools and families. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with the rash or by droplets dispersed into the air by coughing or sneezing.
A person who has chickenpox can transmit the virus for up to 48 hours before the telltale rash appears and remains contagious until all spots crust over. People who've been vaccinated against chickenpox are usually immune to the virus. The same is true of anyone who has had chickenpox in the past. People at risk of contracting chickenpox include anyone who hasn't been vaccinated or who has never had the disease.
Chickenpox is normally a mild disease. But it can be serious and can lead to complications, especially in these high-risk groups:
A common complication of chickenpox is a bacterial infection of the skin. Chickenpox may also lead to pneumonia or, rarely, an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), both of which can be very serious.
Anyone who had chickenpox is at risk of a latent illness called shingles. After a chickenpox infection, some of the varicella-zoster virus may remain in your nerve cells. Many years later, the virus can reactivate and resurface as shingles — a painful band of short-lived blisters. About one in 10 adults who've had chickenpox experiences shingles. The virus is more likely to reappear in older adults and people with weakened immune systems.
Shingles can lead to its own complication — a condition in which the pain of shingles persists long after the blisters disappear. This complication, called postherpetic neuralgia, can be severe.
Other complications of chickenpox affect pregnant women. Chickenpox early on in pregnancy can result in a variety of problems in a newborn, including low birth weight and birth defects, such as limb abnormalities. A greater threat to a baby occurs when the mother develops chickenpox in the week before birth. Then it can cause a serious, life-threatening infection in a newborn.
In otherwise healthy children, chickenpox typically requires no medical treatment. Your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine to relieve itching. But for the most part, the disease is allowed to run its course.
For people who have a high risk of complications from chickenpox, doctors sometimes prescribe medications to shorten the duration of the infection and to help reduce the risk of complications.
If you or your child falls into a high-risk group, your doctor may suggest an antiviral drug such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or another drug called immune globulin intravenous (IGIV). These medications may lessen the severity of the disease when given within 24 hours after the rash first appears. Other antiviral drugs, such as valacyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir), also may lessen the severity of the disease, but have been approved for use only in adults. In some cases, your doctor may recommend getting the chickenpox vaccine after exposure to the virus. This can prevent the disease or lessen its severity.
If complications do develop, your doctor will determine the appropriate treatment. Treatment for skin infections and pneumonia may be with antibiotics. Treatment for encephalitis is usually with antiviral drugs. Hospitalization may be necessary.
Don't give anyone with chickenpox — child or adult — any medicine containing aspirin because this combination has been associated with a condition called Reye's syndrome.
To help ease the symptoms of an uncomplicated case of chickenpox, follow these self-care measures:
Scratching can cause scarring, slow down the healing process and increase the risk that the sores will become infected. If your child can't seem to stop scratching:
The chickenpox rash can be very itchy, and broken vesicles sometimes sting. These discomforts, along with fever, headache and fatigue, can make anyone miserable. For relief, try:
The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is the best way to prevent chickenpox. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the vaccine provides complete protection from the virus for nearly 90 percent of young children who receive it. When the vaccine doesn't provide complete protection, it significantly lessens the severity of the disease.
If you've had chickenpox, you don't need the vaccine. A case of the chickenpox usually makes a person immune to the virus for life. It's possible to get chickenpox more than once, but this isn't common.
The vaccine isn't approved for:
Talk to your doctor if you're unsure about your need for the vaccine. If you're planning on becoming pregnant, consult with your doctor to make sure you're up to date on your vaccinations before conceiving a child.
Parents typically wonder whether vaccines are safe. Since the chickenpox vaccine became available, studies have consistently found it safe and effective. Side effects are generally mild and include redness, soreness, swelling and, rarely, small bumps at the site of the shot.
If you would like to know the latest treatment and management strategies, using conventional and scientifically backed complementary medicine and therapies, plus an assortment of helpful tips, hints and lifestyle remedies which will improve your overall quality of life, then call into our pharmacy and we'll be delighted to help.