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Chickenpox

Last updated on Saturday, March 30, 2013

Overview

Chickenpox is a common disease characterized by numerous itchy, fluid-filled red spots and blisters erupting all over the body associated with fever, and it can be easily spread by infected individuals. Though occurring most frequently in children between the ages of 5 and 9, chickenpox can be contracted by people of all ages in unimmunized populations. While lifetime immunity for the virus is obtained after initial infection, the virus may resurface later in life as shingles. The incident rate for chickenpox is highest during the months of March through May.

Causes

Caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), chickenpox can be passed from an infected individual via skin contact (especially through blisters and sores) and respiratory particles (such as from sneezing and coughing). As a result, it is generally advised to keep away from infected individuals. Do not touch their skin, share food or drinks, or touch clothes and other items that have contacted their blisters. Because it can be spread through the air, it is important to avoid people with this disease. Patients are contagious up to five days before and after the initial appearance of the rash. Once the blisters crust over, the virus usually will not be transmitted.

Symptoms

Symptoms of chickenpox usually appear two weeks after contracting the virus, but they may not develop until up to three weeks after initial exposure. Fever of up to 102 °F, sore throat, and weakness are usually experienced the first two days. Within a day of developing these signs, a rash develops on the torso and then spreads to the head, arms, and legs over the next week or so. This rash evolves into raised red spots and then into fluid-filled blisters, which burst into open sores before crusting over. The disease rarely causes permanent scarring.

Treatments

For individuals with severe infections, medical treatment is recommended. IV fluids may be administered in case of dehydration and inability to eat or drink. A physician may also prescribe an antiviral agent that will shorten the duration and severity of the infection.

Prevention

The best way to prevent chickenpox is to be vaccinated, usually children at one year of age and again at four. This also decreases the chance of the virus resurfacing as shingles. An infected person should stay home to minimize spread, where self-care treatments can be used to relieve symptoms. To reduce itching, take frequent oatmeal baths, use cold compresses and calamine lotion to blisters, or take diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), loratadine (Claritin®), or citirizine (Zyrtec®). Trim fingernails to prevent infection from scratching the blisters. Fever may be reduced with acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, etc.). Do not give aspirin to a child.

Tags: blisterschickenpoxfevervaricella

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