Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease, usually associated with childhood. By adulthood, more than 90 percent of Americans have had chickenpox.
The disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a form of the herpes virus. Transmission occurs from person-to-person by direct contact or through the air.
Until 1995, chickenpox infection was a common occurrence, and almost everyone had been infected by the time he or she reached adulthood. However, the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine in 1995 has caused a decline in the incidence of chickenpox in all ages, particularly in ages one through four years.
Symptoms are usually mild among children, but may be life threatening to infants, adults, and people with impaired immune systems. The following are the most common symptoms of chickenpox. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of chickenpox may resemble other skin problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
Once infected, chickenpox may take 10 to 21 days to develop. Chickenpox is contagious for one to two days before the appearance of the rash and until the blisters have dried and become scabs. The blisters usually dry and become scabs within four to five days of the onset of the rash. Children should stay home and away from other children until all of the blisters have scabbed over.
Family members who have never had chickenpox have a 90 percent chance of becoming infected when another family member in the household is infected.
Chickenpox is usually diagnosed based on a complete medical history and physical examination of your child. The rash of chickenpox is unique, and usually a diagnosis can be made from a physical examination.
Specific treatment for chickenpox will be determined by your child's physician based on:
Treatment for chickenpox may include:
Children should not scratch the blisters, as this could lead to secondary bacterial infections. Keep your child's fingernails short to decrease the likelihood of scratching.
Most individuals who have had chickenpox will be immune to the disease for the rest of their lives. However, the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue and may reactivate, resulting in herpes zoster (shingles) later in life. Sometimes, a secondary case of chickenpox does occur. Blood tests can confirm immunity to chickenpox in people who are unsure if they have had the disease.
Complications can occur from chickenpox. Those most susceptible to severe cases of chickenpox are infants, adults, pregnant women (unborn babies may be infected if the mother has not had chickenpox prior to pregnancy), and people with impaired immune systems. Complications may include: