Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a very contagious disease caused by a virus. This virus usually infects children less than 15 years. Older children and adults can also become infected if they haven’t already had chickenpox (or been vaccinated against it).
Early symptoms of chickenpox may include body ache, fever, and sore throat. Then it turns into a very itchy skin rash that can develop into as many as 400–500 sores. The chickenpox rash usually appears first on the abdomen or back and face, and then spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, nose, ears, and genitals.
The rash begins as multiple small, red bumps that look like pimples or insect bites. They develop into thin-walled blisters filled with clear fluid, which then becomes cloudy. The blister wall breaks, leaving open sores, which finally crust over to become dry, brown scabs.
Chickenpox, which occurs most often in the late winter is very contagious – if exposed to an infected family member, about 80% to 90% of those in a household who haven’t had chickenpox will get it.
Chickenpox is easily spread through the air by sneezing and coughing or through contact with someone’s chickenpox sores. If you’ve never had chickenpox or the vaccine, you can get infected by just being in the same room with someone who has the disease. Once infected chickenpox may take 10-21 days to develop. The contagious period (ability to pass the infection to others) for chickenpox begins about 2 days before the rash appears and lasts until all the blisters are crusted over. A child with chickenpox should be kept out of school until all of the blisters have dried, which is usually about 1 week, but you don’t have to wait until all the scabs fall off to let your child get back to a normal schedule.
Pregnant women, as well as people with diseases or problems with their immune system, should not be near a person with chickenpox.
While most people recover after one week, some do not. Complications of chickenpox can include pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), scarring of the skin, severe bacterial infection, damage to unborn child of a pregnant mother.
Older children and adults who are infected usually get much sicker than younger children and are more likely to be hospitalized.
Anyone who has had chickenpox as a child is at risk for a complication later in life called shingles. After an infection, some of the varicella-zoster virus may remain inactive in nerve cells near the spinal cord. Many years later, the virus can reactivate and resurface as shingles. When it reactivates, it affects the nerve to the skin. Symptoms, such as a tingling feeling, itching, or pain followed by a rash with red bumps and blisters appear only in the area of the skin that the nerve goes to.
Chickenpox can be prevented by vaccination, which is the only effective measure to control the spread and frequency of varicella. The vaccine is about 70% to 85% effective at preventing mild infection, and more than 95% effective in preventing moderate or severe disease. People who do develop chickenpox after vaccination have much milder symptoms with fewer skin blisters and a fast recovery.
Many people need to be vaccinated. Children over the age of 12 months who haven’t had chickenpox should get vaccinated against this disease. This includes teenagers. Adults who have not had chickenpox should also be vaccinated. Studies have shown chickenpox vaccine to be safe and effective. This vaccine has been used since the early 1970s in many areas of the world. As is the case with all immunization schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances where the vaccine should not be given. It is better to consult a specialist regarding your need for vaccination.
The most common side effects of the vaccine are mild and may include pain and redness at the injection site. Fever and fussiness may also occur. A rash may develop at the site where the shot was given. More serious side effects are rare.
Healthy children who have had chickenpox do not need the vaccine – they usually have lifelong protection against the illness.
Chickenpox is a mild disease. So, my child does not need the vaccine
Chicken pox causes more deaths than any other vaccine-preventable childhood disease since complications are common. Chicken pox can also reemerge in adults as shingles, an extremely painful nerve and skin disease. Although vaccine does not offer complete protection against shingles, the risk is greatly reduced.
Parents who prefer to have their children acquire natural immunity against chickenpox naturally face another hurdle. It is becoming harder and harder to find a sick child who can infect yours. This is because most of the parents are opting for chickenpox vaccine.