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October 04, 2019 | Abigail Mckay

An Overview of Chickenpox/Varicella

When a baby is born, parents are often given an immunization card to indicate the vaccines, shots, and medications that have been administered to the child. Some vaccinations are administered at birth, and others are administered as the child ages. However, most vaccinations are advised within a child’s formative years with booster doses being administered periodically throughout life.

This immunization card follows your child for the rest of their lives. There used to be a time, not too long ago in fact, when vaccines were uncommon or straight-up unknown. This resulted in several thousands of deaths and some plagues throughout the years.

In the 21st century, the focus is on immunization and curbing the world of ailments that have vaccines. One of which is varicella, commonly known as chickenpox.

What is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox or Varicella is a highly contagious, viral, air-borne disease caused by the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV). The ailment is seen predominantly in children below the age of 15. However, there have been several reports of chickenpox in adults as well.

The mainstay of the disease is the formation of itchy, blister-like, fluid-filled cavities on the surface of the skin. The chickenpox rash is commonly found on the chest, neck, and the back. However, it progressively spreads to other parts of the body as well.

There are anywhere from between 250 to 500 itchy blisters over the surface of the body from the time of inoculation to the time the disease subdues. While the disease usually subdues on its own, there have been reported deaths associated with chickenpox. The risk of death from chicken pox is higher in the following kinds of people:

  • Babies
  • Pregnant Women, and
  • People with compromised immune systems

Varicella Vaccine:

Chickenpox occurs in every part of the world. In the United States, there are a reported 3 million cases of chickenpox annually. These numbers are in comparison to the 140 million in the early 1990s before the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995.

The vaccine decreased the death rate from chickenpox by 90%. However, it is important to understand that there are over 9000 reported cases of hospitalizations because of the viral disease in the United States annually. With 100 to 150 deaths.

Breakthrough Varicella:

Contrary to popular belief, a vaccine doesn’t completely eliminate the probability of a person ever contracting a disease. A vaccine can limit the chances of it to a negligible extent, but not entirely.

Breakthrough varicella is a condition seen in people who have been previously vaccinated to the disease, yet contract chickenpox. The chickenpox seen in vaccinated people is, however, of a shorter duration and is often milder.

Chickenpox Symptoms

The classical signs and symptoms of chickenpox include the appearance of multiple, small, fluid-filled, itchy papules over the surface of the skin (particularly the neck, chest, and the back).

Prodromal symptoms of chickenpox are symptoms that appear before the manifestation of the disease itself. These include:

  • Malaise (tiredness and slight fever)
  • Slight fever with coughing and sneezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

The disease itself includes the following:

  • Small vesicles on the surface of the skin. These vesicles are itchy and fluid-filled.
  • If the vesicles coalesse, they form papules. Papules are larger and more prone to breaking.
  • Blisters are larger than papules.
  • Once they subside, there are scabs which are dead skin cells accumulated with hardened pus and blood.
  • If you pick at the vesicles or papules, you increase the risk of developing scar marks.

How can you get Chickenpox?

Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV) is a highly contagious virus spread by close contact with other individuals. The disease is air-borne; transmitted through coughing, sneezing, and breathing on an uninfected individual.

One to two days after having been introduced to the virus themselves, affected individuals are the most contagious they can be. It takes between 10-21 days from first contact till the appearance of signs.

The overall period of chickenpox lasts from between 20-30 days. The actual manifestations of the disease are curbed within two weeks.

Serious Complications:

With the introduction of the varicella vaccine and several medications to treat chickenpox, there are no severe complications of the viral infection as yet. However, in pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals, there are greater chances of developing serious complications.

These include:

  • Bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children, including Group A streptococcal infections
  • Infection of the lungs (pneumonia)
  • Infection or swelling of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia)
  • Bleeding problems (hemorrhagic complications)
  • Bloodstream infections (sepsis)
  • Dehydration

Treatments

There are several at-home treatments for chickenpox. Obviously, the first-line treatment for the disease would be the administration of a vaccine. However, if the vaccine has not been administered or there has been a case of breakthrough varicella, the disease is still manageable, curable, and the risk of spreading it is preventable.

There are several at-home relieving processes that you can do to subdue chickenpox symptoms and prevent skin infections:

  • Applying calamine lotion on the skin.
  • Taking a cool bath once a day and rubbing baking soda on parts that are particularly itchy.
  • Uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal can also relieve some itching.
  • Avoid scratching the vesicles or picking at your scabs.
  • In case a vesicle ruptures, wash your hands before draining the vesicle and applying pressure on it.
  • The use of acetaminophen to relieve the fever associated with chickenpox.
  • The use of ibuprofen to relieve pain associated with excessive itching.

Chickenpox Vaccine:

Two doses of the chickenpox vaccine would be more than 90% effective at preventing chickenpox. When you get vaccinated, you protect yourself and others in your family and community.

This protection is especially important for people who cannot get vaccinated, such as those with a weakened immune system (body’s lowered ability to fight germs and sickness), or pregnant women.

Some people who are vaccinated against chickenpox may still get the disease. However, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer or no blisters (they may have just red spots) and mild or no fever.

The risk of getting chickenpox after two doses of chickenpox vaccine is lower than after only one dose of chickenpox vaccine. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions about the chickenpox vaccine.

Shingles

After a chickenpox disease, the infection stays dormant in the body's nerve tissues. The resistant framework keeps the infection under control, however further down the road, normally in a grown-up, it very well may be reactivated and cause an alternate type of the viral disease called shingles (otherwise called herpes zoster).

The United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) proposes that each grown-up beyond 50 years old get the herpes zoster vaccine.

Shingles influences one of every five grown-ups tainted with chickenpox as kids, particularly the individuals who are invulnerable stifled, especially from disease, HIV, or different conditions.

Stress can welcome on shingles too, despite the fact that researchers are as yet investigating the connection. Shingles is most usually found in grown-ups beyond 60 years old who were determined to have chickenpox when they were under the age of 1.

Conclusion

If your child has developed signs and symptoms consistent with chickenpox or if an adult in your family has what appears to be chickenpox, consult a doctor.

Your doctor will prescribe medications and outline a definitive treatment plan to minimize the symptoms of chickenpox such as the itching, pain, and fatigue.

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Abigail Mckay

Abigail has been a nurse for five years, and throughout her time as a nurse, she has worked in multiple medical-surgical units as well as spent time in the infusion therapy clinic and endoscopy lab. She is passionate about preventative medicine through patient education regarding nutrition and exercise. Due to her passion, Abigail has gone on to earn two certifications including a certification in medical-surgical nursing (CMSRN) and a certification in holistic nursing (HNB-BC), in hopes of being able to better serve her patients. Abigail earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA and now bettering patient education in the healthcare system through partnering with American TelePhysicians.