Chickenpox is a virus that spreads easily to others. It creates an itchy rash. The infection can also cause serious complications in some people.
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Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It spreads from person to person through: Airborne droplets of moisture containing the VZV virusDirect contact with fluid from a chickenpox or zoster rash
A pregnant mother can transmit the virus to a fetus.
Chickenpox is more common in children under 10 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of chickenpox include:
Close contact with an infected person, unless you have been
or have already had chickenpox
Conditions or medications that suppress your immune system, such as
infection, an organ transplant, or high-dose steroid use
PregnancyTime of year—late winter, early spring
Symptoms break out about 10-21 days after contact. They are more severe in adults than they are in children.
Initial symptoms include: Mild headacheModerate feverCoughSore throatSevere itchLack of appetiteGeneral feeling of discomfortAbdominal pain
The rash appears within 1-2 days after the first symptoms. The rash:
Begins with small, flat, red spots:
Spots become raised and form a round, intensely itchy, fluid-filled blisterBlisters develop in clusters, with new clusters forming over 5-6 daysUsually develops into patches on the skin above the waist, including the scalpMay also appear on the eyelids, in the mouth, upper airway, voice box, or on the genitalsTypically crusts over by day 6 or 7 and disappears within 3 weeks
You will be asked your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is usually based on the rash and your age. Blood and lab tests to identify the virus are rarely needed.
Chickenpox is mild in most people. It will naturally run its course. In these cases,
focuses on relieving the symptoms.
It may be difficult to avoid scratching. Itchiness can be reduced with: Wet compressesOver-the-counter anti-itch creams or lotionsOatmeal bathsOral antihistamine medication
Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Antibiotics cannot cure infections caused by a virus. However, they may be given if the rash becomes infected with bacteria.
The course, severity, and duration of the infection may be reduced by antiviral medications.
They are often used in: Adolescents, adults, and individuals with weak immune systemsIndividuals with chronic skin or lung diseases and those taking aspirin or steroids
Varicella-zoster immune globulin is often given immediately after exposure. It is reserved for newborns and people with weak immune systems.
Avoid contact with anyone who has chickenpox. This is important if you have not been vaccinated against the infection.
or a combination vaccine called MMRV, is recommended for most children. MMRV protects against
, and varicella.
There is a catch-up schedule if your child has missed the routine injections.
Adults who have never had chickenpox or received the varicella vaccine should be vaccinated.
If you or your child has not been vaccinated, but are exposed to chickenpox, a vaccine given right away may help lessen the severity of the infection, or prevent the infection.
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Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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