Chickenpox (Varicella): Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Complications.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the Varicella Zoster virus (VZV). It is primarily an airborne disease and spreads very quickly through coughing, sneezing and direct contact. It starts with fever and a blister like skin rash on your body, which eventually develops to form raw and itchy pockmarks and vesicles. The incubation time is 2-3 weeks from infection to outbreak. Chicken pox occurs more commonly in children than in adults.
The disease is much more aggressive in adults. An advantage of having contracted the disease once is that, you will not contract the disease again, as your body produces anti-bodies against the virus. This property of chickenpox prevents the disease from recurring. Chickenpox usually affects immunocompromised adults and children. It has a high secondary attack rate, i.e. transmission from one person to another occurs very quickly.
What Is The Pox Virus?
Poxviruses are brick-shaped viruses with double-stranded DNA.
Different Types Of Pox Diseases:
They cause diseases with the formation of skin nodules or disseminated rash more frequently. Infections in humans occur by contact with infected animals, people or materials. Examples of poxvirus diseases include molluscum, contagiosum, smallpox, monkeypox, chickenpox etc.
See Also: Cold Fever Symptoms
Chicken Pox Symptoms and Causes:
Here is a guide for you regarding what are the main causes and symptoms of chicken pox.
Symptoms of Chicken Pox:
The signs and symptoms of this disease are well known and easily identifiable. Here are the symptoms mentioned below.(1)
1. Generalized Symptoms:
These generalized symptoms occur before the appearance of the rash, which is the hallmark of this disease. They include sore achy muscles, headache, nausea and loss of appetite. Oral sores might also occur at this stage.
Low grade fever and fatigue occur next, which might be the signs of development of chickenpox. In children, the rash, characteristic of chickenpox appears before these symptoms and facilitates early diagnosis.
2. Exanthema (External) Symptoms:
The visible red rashes or spots then develop to form small blisters and these blisters erupt all over the body. There are intense burning and itching sensation at this blister stage. Fluid filled vesicles burst and crust over. There is a high risk of superseding bacterial infection, which leads to the formation of ulcers and scars. It might be complicated by the occurrence of the common cold. Since the immune system is compromised in this period, there is a major chance of it developing into pneumonia if it is not treated immediately. The person suffering from chicken pox is very contagious and this high risk remains till the scabs dry completely.
Once the chickenpox rash appears, it goes through 3 stages:
- Raised pink papules which last for several days.
- Small fluid filled vesicles, which burst and leak after a few days.
- Crusts and scabs, which cover the broken vesicles, take weeks to heal.
New lesions continue to appear for several days, so all the 3 stages of lesions might be present at the same time, which is a characteristic feature of chickenpox.
3. Loss of Appetite:
Loss of appetite and loss of weight are usually associated with the incubation period of chickenpox.
Another common symptom of chicken pox is the feeling of fatigue and general malaise. This is more common in the period of active rash formation due to increased viral load.
Nausea and vomiting are some of the other symptoms of chicken pox. Generally, kids below the age of 12 are the prime victims of this symptom.
Headaches are another group of symptoms associated with chicken pox and they cause a lot of discomfort to the patient.
Some may experience diarrhea, mild or severe in chickenpox. Make sure that the patient is adequately hydrated at all times.
8. Body pains:
Generalized body pains, especially chest pain and joint pain may occur during the infective period of chickenpox.
9. Some other generalized nonspecific symptoms include runny nose, swollen lymph nodes, swelling of the face and stiff neck.
Dos and Don’ts:
- Don’t touch your blisters no matter how much it itches. Scratching causes severe skin infection and also leaves permanent marks. Also, oozing pus can be a source of infections to other people.
- Ensure that you take a lot of rest and a good, healthy diet for a proper recovery, as your immune system is weak at this point.
- Cut your nails regularly until completely healed, to prevent further transmission of the disease through infected clothes or objects. Use a neem stick if the itch becomes unbearable. Brush the leaves gently over the area itching.
- Soak a few fresh neem leaves in warm water and bathe with it. The neem leaves act as a natural antiseptic and help in the healing process.
- Use calamine lotion to prevent your skin from drying. Drying can increase the itching.
- Your diet should comprise of food that keeps your body cool and loads of fruits and vegetables to rebuild your immunity. It is advisable to add supplements to your diet.
- Keep an eye on your temperature. Pay your doctor a visit if it is rises fast and abnormally as it might indicate the onset of complications.
Causes of Chicken Pox:
Chicken pox is caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus, which belongs to the family of Herpes viruses. The virus occurs mainly in tropical countries and affects mostly children over adults. With the advancement of science and technology, vaccinations are available to prevent the occurrence of these diseases and its changed form in the latter years of life. (2)
1. Neonatal Chicken pox:
occurs when the mother is infected with chickenpox during the last 3 weeks of her pregnancy. It might be transmitted to the child either transplacentally, through direct contact during delivery or postdelivery by direct contact or droplet infection. It ranges from mild to severe with symptoms like scars, visual abnormalities etc. and can be treated if caught early.
Coughing transfers the germs of chickenpox through droplets through the air to another person. Maintain special care to cover your mouth if you have chickenpox in order to reduce transmission of the disease.
Among all the chicken pox causes, this one can be said to be the most prevalent ones. A lot of people sneeze without using a handkerchief and due to this, the germs spread more easily. This is one of the prime reasons behind the spread of chicken pox.
4. Direct Contact with Blisters:
Chicken pox can also occur due to direct contact with the blisters or the fluid exudates from the blisters of the patient. It can also occur by touching the infected clothes or objects of the patient.
Chicken pox primarily takes place in children as they have weak immune systems. Chicken pox most commonly occurs in children under 12 years of age.
6. Weak Immune System:
Your kid will be easily affected with chicken pox if he has a weak immune system and generally remains sick. He also might be more prone to complications of chicken pox.
7. Childcare Facility:
It has been seen that children who spend a considerable amount of time in childcare facility have increased chances of infection with chicken pox. The reason behind this is the extremely contagious nature of the disease combined with overcrowding of childcare facilities, which leads to fast spread in that environment.
Precautions To Take For Avoiding Chicken pox:
- Chickenpox is extremely contagious, hence follow isolation after the symptoms start showing. You are contagious 1-2 days before the symptoms start to show till all your scabs have dried and crusted over. Follow proper hygiene and precautions to limit its spread. (3)
- Chickenpox can be prevented through vaccination, which is recommended for all children and adults who haven’t had chicken pox yet. Two doses of the vaccine are needed.
- Children should receive the vaccination according to their vaccine schedule, at 12-15 months of age and 4-6 years of age. Adults should also receive 2 doses of the vaccine one month apart. However, this vaccine should be avoided in pregnant women.
Complications of Chickenpox:
- Shingles: VZV can lie dormant in your nerves if you have had a prior chickenpox infection. Sometimes, it reactivates later in life, especially in immune compromised people, causing Shingles. Shingles causes an itchy painful rash with fluid filled blisters. If you have shingles, you are contagious to other people and can pass on the virus to them, causing chicken pox. Because shingles develop secondarily in the body after chickenpox, one cannot get shingles from a chickenpox patient.
- Superceding bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues, especially streptococcal.
- Pneumonia – This is a common complication in children, in longstanding cases especially. It can be life threatening if left untreated.
- Reyes syndrome, which occurs when the child take aspirin when infected with chicken pox is a fatal combination of liver and brain disease.
- Bleeding problems
- Encephalitis (Inflammation of the brain)
- Meningitis (inflammation of the meninges) – Most common symptom is stiff neck and pain.
- Sepsis or infection of the blood.
- Toxic Shock Syndrome, which is usually seen only in very severe cases.
Disclaimer: Please be advised that all the information provided here is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that you have symptoms of chicken pox, consult your nearest healthcare professional.
1. What Are The Treatment Options For Chickenpox?
An analgesic can be given for the management of fever and aches. (Avoid aspirin). Oatmeal baths can decrease the associated itching. Keep nails trimmed in patients to avoid scratching and secondary bacterial infections. Acyclovir is used in severe cases.
2. What Type Of Doctor Should I Consult If I Have Chickenpox?
Usually, all primary health care centers have treatment options for chickenpox. If you have a severe skin rash, you might want to consult a dermatologist. If your child is affected with chicken pox, a pediatrician will be able to guide you better.
3. What Are The Risk Factors For Chicken pox?
a) Exposure to a person having chickenpox.
b) Not vaccinated against chicken pox.
c) People having weak immunity.