Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease, usually occurring during childhood and experienced by 9 in 10 Americans by the time they reach adulthood. However, since the introduction of a chickenpox vaccine in 1995, incidences have declined in all ages, particularly in children age 1 to 4. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended for children, adolescents and adults who haven’t already had the disease.
Direct person-to-person contact can cause chickenpox transmission, though it may take 10 to 21 days after infection for symptoms to appear. The disease can be spread through the air by coughing or sneezing. It is contagious for one to two days before the rash appears, continuing until blisters dry and scab. Once a family member is infected, other members of the same household who have never had chickenpox have a 90 percent chance of becoming infected as well.
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, a form of the herpes virus. Chickenpox symptoms are usually mild in children and can resemble other medical conditions or skin problems. However, complications may be life threatening to healthy infants, children and adults and people with impaired immune systems.
Fatigue and irritability are among the most common symptoms, Fever, feeling ill, decreased appetite, cough, runny nose and muscle and joint pain are also symptoms. Chickenpox rash is unique. People vaccinated against the disease and then exposed to it, may still develop a mild case of chickenpox, with a limited rash and mild or no fever.
Specific chickenpox treatments depend on factors including age, overall health and extent of the disease. Rest and fluid intake are important parts of treatment, which can also include fever-relievers like acetaminophen. Severe cases may require antiviral drugs. Antibiotics do not treat the disease itself, they may be used for treating bacterial infections, if they develop.
Calamine lotion and cool baths with baking soda may relieve itching.
Most people who experience chickenpox are immune to the disease for the rest of their lives. However, secondary cases of chickenpox do rarely occur. People who are unsure if they have had the disease can find out through a blood test for immunity.