Healthy Living

How Does Chicken Pox Spread?

How Does Chicken Pox Spread?

Key Takeaways

  • Direct contact with chicken pox- or shingles-infected people is the easiest and most common way by which chicken pox spreads.
  • Pregnant mothers who have been infected increases their chances of passing the disease to the fetus.
  • From either of the different fluids available for transmission, the virus can move into the bloodstream.

Chicken pox is an infectious disease which affects mostly children under the age of 15, but it can even affect adults. Given the number of infections per year, it is like a rite of passage for every growing child.

Symptoms of chicken pox 

The symptoms of chicken pox include:

After a person has caught the infection, symptoms begin to show after 10 to 15 days. 

What causes chicken pox?

Varicella zoster virus is the causative agent of chicken pox. This virus, like all other viruses, is capable of passing through barriers and filters which makes the spread of chicken pox very fast and highly infectious. Children who have never had chicken pox before have high chances of being infected once they come into contact with a person who has it. Children having chicken pox can spread the disease and infect others in approximately two to six days after the rash appearance. At this stage and time, blister crops are hard to observe as the last ones should have already crusted over. The disease is usually much more severe in adults than children. The spread of chicken pox can happen through different ways. Described below are the three chief means by which chicken pox is spread.

  1. Direct contact
  2. Airborne spread
  3. Indirect contact

Direct contact

Direct contact with people infected with chicken pox or shingles is the easiest and most common way by which chicken pox spreads. When people are infected with chicken pox, they develop blisters that after some time burst and develop into open sores containing a fluid. This happens to be the most contagious part of the virus if someone comes into contact with the fluid of an open sore. The sore contains the virus varicella zoster that causes this illness. This also includes the blisters of persons suffering from shingles. This fluid is not the only one that increases your chances of developing the disease as nasal and oral fluids can also contribute. The nasal and oral fluids of the infected person include saliva and mucus. If one comes into direct contact with these fluids, they have a high likelihood of becoming infected. 

Pregnant mothers who have been infected increase their chances of passing the disease to the fetus. It mainly happens through open sores. Upon contracting the disease, the varicella virus could be the causative agent of birth defects in the fetus that can be serious at times. Thus, for a pregnant mother this disease is a grave threat, and it is wise to keep this group isolated or away from the infected. It is more likely to affect a mother who has not previously been affected by it.

From any of the different fluids available for transmission, the virus can move into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it finds its way to the skin after which a rash may be observed. Before the rash appears, the virus present in the bloodstream is responsible for observable viral symptoms that are typical. This includes fatigue, swollen glands, pain in joints, headache and fever just to name a few. The symptoms in most cases usually disappear once rash development has taken place.

Varicella zoster can also cause shingles, or herpes zoster, a disease whose onset is unprecedented. Here, the virus becomes active even if the initial infection was during childhood or years ago. It is a late complication of chicken pox and only one out of five people are affected. The area which was previously affected by chicken pox is infected and a localized pain accompanies it. After a couple of days, rashes develop on that area and the person feels uncomfortable and often feverish. 

It is also important to note that the blisters of shingles-infected people could cause chicken pox only to those having no vaccination against it and have never been affected before by chicken pox. Secondly, the spread of chicken pox is impossible through dry blisters that have already crusted. Thirdly, infected people and mostly children should not attend their workplace or school for at least six days to prevent the chicken pox from spreading further.

Airborne spread

The virus varicella zoster can survive for quite some time in the air on the outside of the host. Coughing and sneezing are some of the symptoms characteristics of chicken pox especially after the onset of fever. When infected people sneeze, they produce and expel small respiratory droplets in which the varicella virus is present. Inhalation of these droplets by someone lacking exposure to chicken pox initially sees the virus get through to the lungs. From the lungs, the virus enters the circulating bloodstream after which it gets to the skin thereby causing a rash. These tiny droplets can also be expelled when the infected individual laughs or talks in addition to coughing and sneezing. The mouth and the nose are the two places from which the droplets originate.

When the infected person has started showing blisters on their skin, it is advised not to stay close to them, as the liquid from the blisters when expelled can touch your skin and infect you. Even if you are with a person who has had the disease recently, you can get infected. Most of the people are infected by the airborne mode of spreading.

Indirect contact

Infected people make use of certain materials, objects or items such as furniture, utensils, clothes, etc. Unfortunately, often these objects carry the varicella virus with them. Those who have never had chicken pox before will likely develop the disease if they come in contact with these contaminated items mainly by touching them through skin contact.

After such contamination, in a couple of days the person develops fever and eventually the skin is affected and rashes come out. Some victims, especially children, get rashes all over their body. People with low immunity are more likely to be a host to the virus than others.

Complications of the disease

Some rare complications of the disease are:

Immediate medical attention is needed if any of these symptoms are experienced.