Healthy Living

What is Chicken Pox: Get the Facts

What is Chicken Pox: Get the Facts

Key Takeaways

  • Chicken pox is a common disease among children.
  • The earliest signs and symptoms observed in the infected include a high fever, an aching body, irritability and fatigue.
  • Chickenpox is best prevented through the use of the vaccine.

Chicken pox, also known as varicella, is a very contagious disease that is caused by presence of the varicella zoster virus (VZV). The most typical and characteristic sign of chicken pox is itchy bright red blisters all over the body. The varicella vaccine protects about 70-90% of the people who get it. Before the vaccine and routine immunization agains the disease was commonplace, almost everyone got the disease at some point in their lives. Chicken pox is not limited to any particular part of the world; it affects all areas equally, for the most part. Since the vaccine has become readily available, the number of incidences in the United States has decreased by almost 90%. The history of chicken pox is convoluted: for a very long time, up until about the 19th century, chicken pox and smallpox were considered one and the same. Humans seem to be the only species that contract chicken pox naturally, although it has been medically induced in some primates. The most common demographic of those affected by chicken pox is children between the ages of 4 and 10. It rarely occurs in children of the preschool and younger ages. Most cases occur during the winter and spring, due to increased exposure to other children in schools. Adults tend to get the disease more often in tropic countries than in temperate ones. A child who gets chicken pox at a young age will probably never show scares if their disease is taken care of properly, but if an adult gets chicken pox, they are more likely to have pock marks and leftover scars for the rest of their life. 

Chicken pox is a common disease among children that can sometimes attack adults who either didn't not contract the disease as children, or did not receive the varicella vaccine as children. Chicken pox is contagious and is easily transferrable through coughing and sneeze. It can also be transmitted by touch. In a closed area, it is incredibly easily for a sick person to contaminate someone else with chicken pox. Despite this, it takes a significant period of time for chicken pox to develop in one's body and for them to start displaying symptoms. Because of this, a small window of exposure to the chicken pox disease could potentially result in shingles instead of chicken pox. The real reason for chicken pox's name is unknown, but is thought by some to have something to do with the chickpea-like resemblance of the blisters. Other ideas include that it may have originated in chickens, or from it being no great danger.

The earliest signs and symptoms observed in someone with the chicken pox virus include a high fever, an aching body, fatigue, and irritability. Nausea and loss of appetite are also common at this stage. The disease then manifests in the form of a skin rash that develops into numerous blisters all over the body. Sometimes, the number of blisters can reach approximately five hundred. The rash can appear on the inside of the mouth too, which can stay for about a week. During the stage of blisters, intense itching is often experienced. Although they begin as small red dots on the face and upper body , they can develop into large pustules that may crack and bleed when scratched often, while also spreading to all other parts of the body. Scratching is not advised, as it may result in scarring and the opening of blisters, which exposes one to infection. The chicken pox disease shows symptoms within a week of infection, and can range from mild to incredibly severe in adults. They are much more likely to experience complications as a side effect of chicken pox, like varicella pneumonia. But the most common potential late complication of chicken pox is shingles, which occurs when the varicella zoster virus is reactivated in an individual. 

This disease is best prevented through the use of the varicella vaccine. Almost all people get antibodies after receiving the vaccine for the disease. The body thus develops an immunity to the disease which can last a lifetime. Sometimes, one can suffer from the disease even after being vaccinated, but this rarely occurs. This person gets very small bumps which may appear red, but fortunately, they never develop into big blisters all over the body. Chicken pox usually clears up by itself within three weeks, since it is a virus and one simply has to wait for the virus to leave the body of its own accord. The contagious phase of chicken pox, however, does not last for the entire three weeks. If you have chicken pox, it is recommended that you cut your nails short or wear gloves to avoid scratching and irritating the blisters. Treatment is mainly focused on subduing symptoms and waiting for the virus to pass healthily. In adults, antiviral drugs are recommended as soon as possible. 

This chicken pox vaccine is supposed to be administered to all. Some individuals may be predisposed to have higher risk factors, and the vaccine is a very strongly recommended option for them. These people include children under the age of five, college students, military personnel, workers in health, pregnant women, frequent travellers, teachers, and those with poor immune systems. 

The risks of chicken pox may be significantly higher during the first six months of pregnancy for the fetus. During the third trimester, the mother may be more in danger than the fetus. A varicella infection during pregnancy can spread to the fetus via the placenta. If infection sets in within 28 weeks of conception, the infant may be born with fetal varicella syndrome, which can have many physical deformities, including encephalitis, microcephaly, hypoplasia, hypopigmentation, and underdeveloped fingers and toes. 

The chicken pox vaccine is not harmful. The only negative effects it may cause are negligible. The only observed sign is some mild pain and redness at the site of injection, with a mild accompanying rash. The consequences of getting the vaccine can be minimal when compared to the consequences of not getting the vaccine at all. A second dose of the vaccine is recommended within five years of the original shot to ensure total prevention. Because the complications of chicken pox are much higher in adults than they are in children, sometimes parents will deliberately expose their children to the virus in situations called 'chickenpox parties'. Doctors highly discourage this, and advocate for parents to vaccinate their children agains the disease instead. 

Adults are at a higher risk of contracting the chicken pox virus as compared to children, to the point where chicken pox in adults can even be fatal. It is wise to vaccinate your entire family against this disease, if they haven't already been.