Chickenpox

Chickenpox
Chickenpox lesions on the back. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common illness, usually occuring in children, caused by the varicella zoster virus. This virus can also cause shingles later in life.

What are the Symptoms of Chickenpox?

People with the chickenpox have red, itchy spots that usually start on the face and torso. A fever is also common in people with this disease.

How Long Does the Chickenpox Last?

Chickenpox usually lasts about two weeks.

When Should I see a Doctor?

You should see your doctor as soon as you suspect you or your child has chickenpox. Your doctor should diagnose the disease and will determine if any treatment is necessary. Also, you should return to the doctor if you develop of any of the following:

  • Chickenpox in one or both eyes
  • Pain, swelling or tenderness around any of the pox
  • Fever over 103
  • Difficulty bending neck or severe headache
  • Severe or painful cough

These are indications of more serious problems and should be addressed immediately.

What are the Treatments for Chickenpox?

Typically, chickenpox does not require any treatment. Because it is viral, your doctor will usually tell you to take antihistamines to help relieve the itching and wait until the disease resolves itself. However, in some severe cases, or if a person has a weakened immune system, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to reduce the severity of the disease.

Occasionally, chickenpox requires hospitalization.

Who Needs the Chickenpox Vaccine?

Children between the ages of 12 and 18 months are routinely given the vaccine, called the varicella vaccine.

Anyone else who has not had the chickenpox before should have the vaccine as well. Children under 13 years old will receive one dose of the vaccine.

Adults and children over 13 receive two doses of the vaccine 4 to 8 weeks apart.

Who Should NOT Have the Vaccine?

  • Anyone is pregnant or is trying to become pregnant should not have the vaccine and should not be exposed to people with chickenpox.
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system.
  • Anyone who is allergic to gelatin or neomycin (an antibiotic).

Can I Still get the Chickenpox After I Have had the Vaccine?

Yes, while the vaccine provides excellent immunity to the chickenpox, some people may still develop the disease. However, it is usually mild and short-lived. The vaccine is 98% effective against all types of chickenpox. 

Anything Else I Need to Know?

Never give aspirin to anyone who has or has recently had chickenpox. This has been linked to a serious complication called Reye's syndrome.

Sources:

"Vaccination". Chickenpox (Varicella) 12 Feb 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 4 Aug 15. 

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