Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral disease caused by a herpes family virus called Varicella- Zoster Virus (VZV). It is a mild childhood disorder which causes rash and fever.
It can lead to serious disease in newborn babies, pregnant women and adults with weakened immune system. Complications like VZV induced pneumonia (lung infection) or encephalitis (brain swelling) can sometimes lead to death. Deep scars, which might persist can result from secondary bacterial infections of the skin and tissues under the skin by Group A Streptococcus bacteria. Dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea can also occur
Chickenpox virus does not change genetically much and does not occupy any other host than humans. It takes around 10-21 days for the virus to show disease symptoms after entering the susceptible host through a mucosal region of nasopharynx. Following chickenpox, the virus does not go anywhere but sits in the sensory nerve ganglia and it may later be activated to cause zoster or shingles mainly in the elderly people or in the immunocompromised persons.
Symptoms of Chickenpox
Chickenpox starts with a high fever, tiredness, loss of appetite and headache. After a couple of days, the rash shows up on the face, chest, and back, which then spread to the whole body even inside the mouth, eyelids, or genital area. A person can have 250-500 blisters. Rash or blisters then turn into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that later on turn into scabs. One can still get chickenpox even after being vaccinated but it is usually milder with 50 blisters and mild or no fever.
How is chickenpox contagious?
The chickenpox virus spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread by touching or breathing in the virus particles coming from the fluid of patient’s blisters. A person with chickenpox is contagious, 1-2 days before the blisters appear, until the day all blisters have formed scabs. Anyone who has not got this disease earlier or not vaccinated can become sick. Kids can’t go to school for around 2 weeks as they are infectious to other kids. Even vaccinated persons who get the chickenpox can spread it to others.
Chickenpox can be diagnosed by the characteristic rash or red blisters followed by the fever. Adolescents, pregnant women, and people with weakened immunity should see the doctor immediately and given the right treatment to prevent serious complications. A pregnant woman who had chickenpox earlier in her pregnancy need to get a fetal ultrasound during the second trimester to check birth defects. A viral test employing antibodies can be used to detect immunity against chickenpox after having the disease or after getting the Chickenpox vaccine. This test is advisable for women before planning their pregnancy so as to prevent the complication of Chickenpox during pregnancy.
Treatment of Chickenpox
Varicella-zoster immunoglobulin can be injected to the individuals to provide protection against virus within 3 days of exposure. The immunity gained from this procedure is temporary as it does not prevent the establishment of a latent VZV infection and its subsequent reactivation as zoster.
Treatment of varicella can be done with anti herpes viral drugs (nucleoside analogues such as acyclovir) which inhibits the replication of VZV. Both lines of treatments are very costly.