Chicken pox is a viral infection caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), thus it is also called varicella. The infection is highly contagious so that chicken pox patients are advised to do voluntary self-isolation at home or in a hospital to prevent spreading the disease. The infection is common in children under 15 years old, but unimmunized adults can also acquire varicella any time of their life.
People who have contracted varicella are already infectious 1 to 5 days after acquiring the virus. They will continue to be infectious 5 to 10 days from the appearance of the rashes or until scabs have formed on the blisters. The VZV can survive 12 days outside a host.
Symptoms of chicken pox
The most prominent symptom of chicken pox is the red, fluid-filled blisters that can grow throughout the body. These varicella blisters develop in three stages: 1.) the appearance of pink to red bumps, 2.) the bumps will form fluid on top or they become vesicles, and just before the infection goes dormant, 3.) the vesicles will form crust and scab. The blisters may appear at once or latent blisters may appear within 1 week from the appearance of the first blister. Thus, it may take 5 to 10 days until all blisters have formed into scabs.
Other classic symptoms of chicken pox are fever and onset of flu-like symptoms such as body malaise, dry cough, sore throat, headache, and sometimes stomachache. Patients also complain about joint and bone pain and the itch from the blisters can be extreme.
Care and management of chicken pox
Like most viral infections, chicken pox will go away on its own. However, varicella zoster virus infection could pose severe symptoms that symptoms care and management should be undertaken to avoid complications. The itch from the blisters alone could prove unbearable especially for children so that topical calamine and antihistamines may be given. Antibacterial ointment may also be applied on the skin to prevent bacterial infection on the blisters.
In patients with high risk of developing complications, antiviral drugs may also be given within 24 hours from the appearance of the first blister. Antiviral drugs are known to shorten the duration of the infection and lessen the severity.
In an otherwise healthy, adult patient, bed rest and proper food and fluid intake is enough to wait out the infection. The patient or the parents of a minor child should also be responsible in isolating the sufferer to avoid infecting other people with varicella.
Prevention of chicken pox
The availability of chicken pox vaccine greatly lessens the incidence of infection among people who receive the vaccine. Therefore, everyone is advised, especially the children, to get vaccinated against varicella zoster virus to prevent contracting chicken pox. In some countries, parents are required to have their children vaccinated against VZV at 12 to 15 months old, and a booster shot is advised at 4 to 6 years old.
Uninfected individuals must also exercise restraint when dealing with chicken pox patients. As much as possible, contact with infected people must be avoided. And boosting the immune system with exercise and proper diet is always the best practice to ward off any diseases including chicken pox.