The chickenpox virus has been infecting children for decades, to the point that obtaining the virus has become a tradition in the United States. When a child in a community first receives chickenpox, some parents have thrown “chickenpox parties” to expose their child to the virus to get it over with while they’re young. While the chickenpox virus is not as dangerous as many viruses that are often encountered these days, there are some potentially serious effects of the virus – especially for those that do not catch the virus until they’re an adult.
What is the chickenpox virus?
Chickenpox, also known as Varicella zoster virus, is an extremely contagious airborne virus that causes fairly mild symptoms, but can lead to complications that may be life threatening. Chickenpox is a form of herpes and is related to the herpes zoster virus that is also known as “Shingles”.
How does chickenpox spread?
Chickenpox pathogens are usually spread by close contact with humans. Chickenpox has been declared an airborne disease and is spread through bodily fluid particles in the air-usually transmitted through coughs, sneezes, laughing, etc. The blisters and sores, which are the most common and profound symptom of chicken pox, are also highly contagious and should not be touched by other individuals if possible. Chickenpox is contagious a few days prior to visible symptoms and remains contagious until all visible symptoms have cleared.
Who can get chickenpox?
Nearly every person is susceptible to contracting the chickenpox virus that hasn’t already caught chickenpox or that hasn’t received appropriate immunizations for chickenpox. Most people are exposed to the virus during their childhood, but many do not encounter the virus until they’re adults.
What are the symptoms of chickenpox?
Chickenpox usually starts to display symptoms of the virus approximately 7 to 21 days after contracting the virus. Initial symptoms of chickenpox typically include a fever and headache (that may vary throughout individuals) the first day. The second or third day, most will experience the most common symptom of chickenpox, which is a rash consisting of small, blotchy blisters that may be somewhat painful and itchy. These blisters will turn to sores within a matter of days and will scab over and begin to heal.
How long does chickenpox last?
Chickenpox usually runs its course within 10-21 days total. However, those that experience complications with the viral infection may experience a longer duration of symptoms. At this point, your immune system has typically conquered the virus, but the virus may remain inactive in your body. Although rare, some individuals experience reactivation of the virus as herpes zoster (shingles). And while it’s an extremely rare occasion, there have been some instances of people that catch chickenpox for a second time.
Can chickenpox be dangerous?
In general, there isn’t much to fear about chickenpox, but you should definitely be aware of potential complications and monitor those infected with chickenpox closely as a precaution. The most serious conditions that may develop as a result of contracting chickenpox is pneumonia, meningitis (infection of the meninges surrounding the brain), encephalitis (infection inside the brain), and possible kidney problems. However, serious complications of chickenpox are usually only experienced in those with some type of immune system dysfunction. The bottom section of the Chickenpox Cheat Sheet (this article) discusses chickenpox precautions and warnings that should be considered.
If my child or I get chickenpox, should we see a doctor?
Most healthy children and adults will not need to see a physician if catching chickenpox. In fact, it is generally recommended that you do not bring your child to the doctors’ office so that you do not expose others to the virus. If you fear that you or your child are experiencing unusual or severe symptoms associated with chickenpox, or potential complications of the viral infection, you should call your doctor first, explain the symptoms and issues, and follow their recommendation.
Is there a cure for chickenpox?
Great news – there is finally a chickenpox vaccine available. In fact, if you live in the United States, your child has most likely already received the vaccine as it is now a routine immunization for children. The vaccine was created in 1988 and was released in the United States in 1995. The vaccine contains a live, but very weak version of the chickenpox virus. So by receiving the vaccine, your body will learn to combat the virus while having a strain that does not usually cause noticeable symptoms and eliminates almost all of the risks of severe complications. Since the chickenpox virus poses larger risks for adults, it is highly recommended that you get vaccinated if you have not yet had chickenpox. The CDC recommends that adults receive two doses of the vaccine versus the single dose that children typically receive.
For those that were not able to get vaccinated, that get chickenpox, you will most likely have to let the virus run its course and let your body fight the infection naturally. If you have any type of immune disorder, or if you feel like symptoms are severe, or if you feel like you’re experiencing uncommon symptoms of chickenpox, you should call your physician’s office immediately and let them know about your issues. For those that may be at a higher risk of chickenpox complications, or for those experiencing abnormal progression of the infection, your doctor may prescribe acyclovir (a potent antiviral medication) to help treat the virus.
Is the chickenpox vaccine safe?
The chickenpox vaccine has gone through extensive testing and has closely been monitored by the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) since it was first released. The CDC published a report that shows the data of those vaccinated for chickenpox. The report shows statistics for both the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine and the results are a clear indication that the vaccine is extremely safe and effective.
Caring for Somebody with Chickenpox
Diet & Nutrition
It may be difficult to have a proper diet while having chickenpox (especially during the first couple days) because of loss of appetite to eat or drink, but it’s important to eat/drink as healthy as possible. Maintaining a healthy diet and consuming enough nutrients will keep your immune system functioning at maximum capacity so that you recover quickly and reduce the risk of complications. Below are several tips that we recommend if infected with chickenpox:
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated – Its extremely important that you are fully hydrated. Dehydration is one of the quickest ways to lower immune function.
- Drink fresh juices or vegetable broth – Juices and vegetable broths are easy on the stomach and deliver a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients that support immune function.
- Add protein powder to liquids – Protein is also important for immune function, as well as many other processes. We recommend staying away from cooked foods and sticking to a liquid diet during the initial days of the infection. Because eliminating cooked foods will reduce your protein intake, we recommend adding protein powder to your liquids.
Treating the Rash
Living with an extremely itchy, and sometimes painful, rash can be the worst part of chickenpox. Below are a few tips for avoiding the agony of these rashes:
- Cut your fingernails – If you or your child has chickenpox, cut all fingernails as soon as possible to discourage scratching and picking of the sores. There are many bacteria that live beneath your fingernails also, so by cutting them, you will be reducing the risk of any bacterial infections that may occur if coming in contact with the chickenpox rash and sores.
- Take an oatmeal bath – During the infection, the rash is going to become extremely itchy. At times, it will be unbearable. To reduce the itch, take a bath with uncooked oatmeal or cornstarch. Both of these have been shown to be safe and effective methods of reducing itchy feelings during outbreak of a rash.
- Use Calamine Lotion – Calamine lotion is one of the most commonly used medicines for chickenpox outbreaks. It is considered safe for chickenpox conditions and also extremely effective for reducing itch.
Medicine & Supplements
We strongly recommend at least calling your doctor to see what they recommend for you or your child’s chickenpox symptoms. However, if you are unable to contact a physician, we recommend the following to help eliminate risk of severe complications, to relieve symptoms, and to ensure a quick recovery.
- Acyclovir – Acyclovir is a potent antiviral drug used to treat herpes-related viruses. This drug has the ability to drastically stop the virus from replicating and makes the virus a stronger target for your immune system. Acyclovir is only needed in extreme outbreaks of the chickenpox virus or if some are at a higher risk of developing severe complications as a result of chickenpox. Unfortunately, you can only obtain acyclovir by prescription from a physician.
- Emergen-C – There has been a lot of content in recent days trying to discredit Emergen-C, but after reviewing the ingredients of this low-priced supplement, I’m confident that it contains just about every vitamin and mineral that is important to immune function. I’ve also used this product any time that I am sick or even feel like I’m getting sick and I am almost certain that it is extremely effective. After reading some reviews throughout the internet, I’ve found that there are many others that feel the same way that I do. I highly recommend taking this supplement to help aid your immune system
As we’ve discussed, there are several potential complications with chickenpox that can beome severe, and even life threatening. There are also other diseases that share similar symptoms with chickenpox. Below are some warnings and precautions that you should take to ensure that matters don’t become worse with a case of chickenpox:
- Avoid spreading the virus – Because there are many people out there without healthy immune systems, and because adults are at a higher risk if obtaining chickenpox, it is important that you stay home during a chickenpox infection to avoid spreading the virus.
- Get plenty of rest – If you catch chickenpox, it certainly isn’t a requirement that you stay in bed, but we highly recommend taking it easy and getting as much rest as possible.
- Monitor fever – With any type of viral infection, a fever is likely to occur. This is your body’s natural immune response to a virus. The body rises its internal temperature in order to kill the virus. Medicines that reduce fever/body temperature will combat this natural, effective process so we only advise taking these types of medicine if your fever is getting too high. If you have an extremely high fever, you should also contact your physician as soon as possible.
- Never give a child under the age of 12 years old aspirin. They could potentially be at risk of Reye Syndrome which is a very rare, but serious condition that can be fatal with consumption of aspirin.
As we mentioned in the previous section, there are a few severe complications that may potentially develop with chickenpox, so I wanted to list these complications and their side effects for your knowledge. If you or your child are infected with chickenpox and experience any of the following symptoms, contact your physician immediately!:
Encephalitis & Meningitis – Severe headache, constant vomiting, unusual sleepiness, confusion, or sensitivity to light (photophobia)
Pneumonia – Problems breathing, persistent coughing, or coughing up unusual amounts of phlegm
Bacterial Skin Infection – Red, warm, spotty skin surrounding chickenpox sores. There may also be a significant amount of pain occurring in or around these sores.