Chickenpox (infection) - symptoms, causes and treatment

Chickenpox (infection) - symptoms, causes and treatment - picture » Infectious Diseases » Chickenpox

What is Chickenpox

Chickenpox - a common childhood illness that results from INFECTION with the varicella-zoster VIRUS, a member of the herpesvirus family. Chickenpox, also called varicella disease, is highly contagious, spreading through direct contact and exposure to airborne droplets containing the varicella-zoster virus. The INCUBATION PERIOD (time from exposure to illness) is 10 to 21 days.

Symptoms of Chickenpox and Diagnostic Path

The first symptoms are general and include FEVER, HEADACHE, loss of APPETITE, and sometimes NAUSEA and VOMITING. Within two days the characteristic pox emerge. These fluid-filled blisters cover the body and sometimes even occur within the MOUTH, on the surface and sometimes the inside of the eyelids, and in the VAGINA. The blisters itch intensely. In two or three days the fluid within the blisters oozes out and a crust forms, after which the itching subsides. However, new batches of blisters may continue to emerge in clusters for three to five days after the first outbreak.

Diagnosis is straightforward as the pox are characteristic and the illness is so highly contagious that it affects large numbers of people. Many health-care providers do not want to see people who are likely to have chickenpox because of the contagiousness and because treatment is supportive, not therapeutic. The person is contagious from two days before the onset of symptoms until all the pox crust over.

Chickenpox: Treatment Options and Outlook

Most people do not require treatment other than supportive care to improve comfort. Such care may include

  • calamine lotion applied to the blisters to relieve itching
  • oral ANTIHISTAMINE MEDICATION to relieve itching
  • acetaminophen or NONSTEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen to relieve headache, fever, and general discomfort
  • tepid baths with oatmeal in the water to relieve itching


Isolation is important until all the pox have blistered. Schools may require children to remain home until the crusts are no longer apparent. Most people recover and are able to return to normal activities within 7 to10 days. The pox heal without scarring unless they become infected, which may happen with excessive scratching.

Chickenpox and Reye’s syndrome

Do not give aspirin to anyone who has chickenpox, as doing so creates the risk for developing REYE’S SYNDROME. Reye’s syndrome is a serious neurologic condition that can be fatal.

ANTIVIRAL MEDICATIONS can significantly lessen the severity and length of illness when taken within 24 hours of the first pox. However, doctors typically reserve antiviral medications for people at risk for severe illness-infants under one year of age, pregnant women, and people who are IMMUNOCOMPROMISED-because the normal course of illness is short and has very low risk for significant complications. The most common complication of chickenpox is bacterial infection of the pox that results from scratching, which introduces BACTERIA into the blisters. Complications that are rare though possible include ENCEPHALITIS, PNEUMONIA, and REYE’S SYNDROME.

The varicella-zoster virus remains in the body after the illness of chickenpox runs its course, retreating to the NERVE roots where it apparently enters a stage of dormancy. In 90 percent of people the virus never re-emerges; however, in about 10 percent of people the virus causes HERPES ZOSTER (shingles) years to decades after chickenpox.

Risk Factors and Preventive Measures

Exposure to the varicella-zoster virus is the only risk factor for chickenpox. It is very difficult to avoid exposure because the MODES OF TRANSMISSION are multiple. As well, the extremely contagious nature of the infection coupled with the extended incubation period means exposure often occurs before people realize they are ill; outbreaks of chickenpox are typically widespread. A VACCINE for chickenpox is part of the routine IMMUNIZATION schedule for children in the United States. The vaccine prevents chickenpox in about 85 percent of people who receive it and significantly reduces the severity and length of illness in those who acquire the infection.


Resource: Facts On File Encyclopedia Of Health And Medicine

Each atricle being rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars.
Please rate this article
Article Rating: 2,0 stars of 5

Discussion and opinions:

Insert your opinion:

Tweet this page

Other Articles

Virus (infection) definition and immune system

Infectious Diseases |

What is a virus - definition Virus - an infectious PATHOGEN that must invade a host cell to replicate, technically called an obligate intracellular PARASITE. A virus is a particle of living material that contains an inner core of nucleic acid (DNA or RNA), called the genome, encased in an outer shell of protein, called a capsid. Some viruses contain a

Adenovirus (virus) - infection and symptoms

Infectious Diseases |

A VIRUS family that causes INFECTION of mucous membrane tissues throughout the body. Adenoviruses are responsible for a wide range of illness including upper respiratory infection, viral CONJUNCTIVITIS, GASTROENTERITIS, and URINARY TRACT INFECTION (UTI). These infections primarily affect children age 10 and younger. Infection with one adenovirus confers

Amebiasis treatment and symptoms

Infectious Diseases |

A parasitic INFECTION of the gastrointestinal tract. The PARASITE responsible is Entamoeba histolytica, a single-cell organism (an ameba) that enters the body by drinking water or eating food that contains E. histolytica in cyst form. The cyst is a protective encasing within which the ameba may sustain itself in a dormant stage for weeks to months outside a

Antibiotic medications - side effects

Infectious Diseases |

Antibiotic medications - Drugs that kill BACTERIA and certain other microorganisms. Antibiotic medications are the mainstay of treatment for bacterial INFECTION. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are capable of killing numerous types of bacteria; narrowspectrum antibiotics kill specific types or strains of bacteria. There are seven primary classifications of

Antifungal medications and treatment

Infectious Diseases |

Drugs that kill fungi (yeast). Antifungal medications are available for topical or systemic treatment. Some fungal infections require both. Antifungal medications work through various mechanisms to interfere with the ability of fungi to survive or reproduce. Broadspectrum antifungal medications are effective for treating a variety of fungal infections;

Antiviral medications and viral infection

Infectious Diseases |

Antiviral medications - medications to shorten the course and lessen the severity of illness due to viral INFECTION as well as reduce viral shedding to minimize contagiousness. Some antiviral medications are able to prevent viral infection from developing after exposure to the VIRUS. Antiviral medications mark a fine line because they must destroy viruses

What is Anthrax

Infectious Diseases |

Anthrax (disease) - an illness resulting from INFECTION with the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax is a naturally occurring infection among wild and domestic livestock (such as cows, sheep, goats, and antelope). Anthrax is rare in people in the United States, though more common in people who live, work, or travel to countries where anthrax is more

Babesiosis disease Babesia microti and symptoms

Infectious Diseases |

An illness that results from INFECTION with the parasitic protozoan Babesia microti. Most people who have babesiosis do not have symptoms; the infection causes illness primarily in people who are IMMUNOCOMPROMISED or who have had SPLENECTOMY (surgical removal of the SPLEEN). The bite of the Ixodes tick, found in the northeastern United States, is the mode

Bacteria - definition, what is, types and list of bacteria

Infectious Diseases |

What is bacteria and definition of bacteria Bacteria - single-cell microorganisms (microbes). Bacteria are the most ancient and primitive life forms known, with fossils dating back more than 3 billion years. A bacterium’s structure is very simple, consisting of a rigid cell wall that supports and contains the cytoplasm, fragments of RNA, and a single

What is Botulism

Infectious Diseases |

What is Botulism Botulism is a potentially life-threatening illness resulting from INFECTION with the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The BACTERIA are naturally present in soil, where they encase themselves in spores. In the body, the bacteria release a toxin that blocks the release of acetylcholine, a NEUROTRANSMITTER that facilitates NERVE