Chickenpox (Varicella)

Chickenpox (Varicella) is a viral infection that causes rash, fever, coughing, headache, and loss of appetite.

At-Risk Populations

Chickenpox is most common in young children and usually runs its course without any problems in childhood.

Some groups are at risk for complications:

  • Pregnant women who have not had chickenpox.
  • People with a weak immune system.

Symptoms

Symptoms include an itchy skin rash with blister-like lesions, covering the body but usually more concentrated on the face, scalp, and trunk. Most, but not all, infected individuals have fever, which develops just before or when the rash appears. If exposed, persons who have been vaccinated against the disease may get a milder illness, with a less severe rash (sometimes involving only a few red bumps that look similar to insect bites) and mild or no fever.

How It Spreads

Chickenpox is spread from one person to another through the air. When someone with Chickenpox coughs or sneezes, virus particles are released into the air. Someone who breathes in the viral particles is “exposed”, and may get infected.

Prevention

Varicella vaccine can prevent this disease. Currently, two doses of vaccine are recommended for children, adolescents, and adults.

Testing & Diagnosis

A diagnosis of chickenpox is made by observing the symptoms and the typical appearance of the rash.

Treatment

Parents can do several things at home to help relieve their child’s chickenpox symptoms. Because scratching the blisters may cause them to become infected, keep your child’s fingernails trimmed short. Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching.

If you or your child has a fever that lasts longer than four days or rises above 102ºF, call your healthcare provider. Also if any areas of the rash or any part of the body become very red, warm, or tender, or begin leaking pus (thick, discolored fluid), call your healthcare provider since these symptoms may indicate a bacterial infection. Call your doctor immediately if the individual with chickenpox seems extremely ill, is difficult to wake up or appears confused, has difficulty walking, has a stiff neck, is vomiting repeatedly, has difficulty breathing, or has a severe cough.

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