Chickenpox: What is it?

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox, or varicella, is a well-known and highly contagious skin disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It usually affects children to a mild extent, but chickenpox can cause serious or fatal illness in adults and people with supressed immune systems.

The disease can be spread through coughing and sneezing, or direct contact with fluid in the blisters of the rash. A person with chickenpox can infect other individuals for one to two days before the rash appears, and until the blisters have all turned into scabs, which takes about four to five days.

There’s an incubation period of roughly two weeks, although certain individuals can take longer to display symptoms.

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Chickenpox initially presents itself in symptoms similar to those of a cold, eg. Headaches, mild fever, and a cough. However within days a rash will form, starting as pink blotchy patches, and quickly forming into itchy blisters. These blisters will then turn to scabs in about three or four days.

What is the treatment for chickenpox?

A pre-emptive treatment for chickenpox is the widely available, safe, and effective varicella vaccine. Another important factor in preventing infection is high standards of hygiene; eg. Washing hands after: contact with food, or coughing/sneezing.

Once an individual has contracted chickenpox, there isn’t a set treatment. While the blisters can cause extreme discomfort, it’s important to note that scratching the rash can cause permanent scarring or further infection. This makes it crucial to make sure children with chickenpox either know not to scratch their blisters, or are supervised so that they don’t.

Another important thing to note is that while paracetamol can also be administered in an attempt to reduce discomfort, on no account should Aspirin be given to a child or teenager with chickenpox. This has been shown to potentially cause the development of Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.

While chickenpox will usually have a short duration with little to no lasting effects, any individuals with the disease should stay at home, away from any day-care centres, schools, or workplaces, as the disease is extremely contagious. The disease can spread through the air (coughing) or through contact with someone who is infected.

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