Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a common childhood infection that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is one of the herpes viruses (this same virus also causes shingles in adults). This infection is highly contagious as the virus can easily spread through direct contact or droplets of saliva. Fluids inside the chickenpox blisters also contain these viruses and can be communicable when they break open.
Most of the time, chickenpox affect children in preschool and grade school aged two to ten. Sometimes, adults who did not have the infection when they were younger can also acquire chickenpox. But whether or not you have already gotten chickenpox, the short overview below will help you learn more about this disease. Let’s take a closer look.
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of chickenpox may appear a few days before the actual onset of the classic chickenpox rash. These include headache, fever, loss of appetite, muscle pain, and loss of appetite. The chickenpox rash usually consists of numerous tiny, itchy, and fluid-filled blisters over the red spots on the skin. Normally, the appearance of blisters start on the face, neck, and scalp, and will soon gradually spread to other parts of the body.
- As alluded to earlier, there is a vaccine specifically used to prevent chickenpox. In most cases, the vaccine prevents almost all possible complications of the disease.
- Normally, the virus itself and the symptoms associated with it will disappear within two weeks (or less). Nonetheless, physicians may prescribe medication to treat associated symptoms like fever and muscle pains.
- To date, the drug acyclovir is one of the few known licensed drugs for the treatment of chickenpox. This drug is known to work best if given a few hours after the onset of rash.
Recurrence of chickenpox
Contrary to the popular belief, chickenpox can be reactivated (this usually happens in adulthood). During an attack of chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus can hide from the body’s human immune system and stay there for several years, even for a lifetime. This period of inactivity (known as the latency) is due to the virus ability to travel to the dorsal root ganglia, a special type of nerve cell in the skin that transmits information to the brain.
- If the same virus becomes reactivated, it causes an infection called herpes zoster or shingles. The virus invades the same ganglia where it hid as well as the other nerve connecting to it. Normally, nerves located in the face are affected but the virus can also travel into the bloodstream and invade the spinal cord.
- It is important to note that this infection can only result from the reactivation of the virus in a previously infected person. In other words, shingles, unlike chickenpox, is not contagious from one person to another either through direct contact or exposure to droplets.
- To date, it is still unclear why the virus gets reactivated in some but never in others. However, scientists and medical professionals alike think that it has something to do with the impairment or suppression of the body’s immune system. Aside from immunodeficiency diseases like AIDS, aging is also one probable cause.