At Rite Aid, we know chickenpox is a serious threat to your wellness. Chickenpox results from exposure to a virus known as varicella-zoster. Its telltale characteristic is a rash causing between 250-500 itchy blisters starting primarily on the face, chest and back and then spreading to other areas. Other symptoms may include headache, tiredness, fever, and lack of appetite. Chickenpox complications are not common in healthy people. However, babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems who get a serious case of chickenpox may be at high risk for complications. Serious complications may include: bacterial infections, pneumonia, bleeding problems, dehydration and encephalitis (inflammation or infection of the brain). This disease is very contagious. Direct contact with those who have chickenpox and exposure to airborne particles (e.g. coughing, sneezing) is how it is primarily spread.
You can still get chickenpox, even if you've been vaccinated. But the physical impact is usually far less, like mild to no fever and significantly less blistering. Whether you've had it or not, chickenpox can significantly hamper your wellbeing.
How does Chickenpox spread?
The varicella-zoster virus causes this very contagious disease. Those who have never had chickenpox, or been vaccinated for chickenpox, are especially susceptible and the disease spreads readily to these people. It can be airborne, and spread in that manner, when someone suffering from the disease talks, sneezes or coughs. Chickenpox can also be acquired through contact with or breathing the virus particles from any open blisters.
Since the varicella-zoster virus also causes shingles, chickenpox can also be contracted from people suffering from shingles. Those who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine are more susceptible and can acquire it from someone who has shingles.
Chickenpox can spread from 1-2 days before the telltale rash appears until the blisters have formed scabs.
Development of chickenpox can happen anytime from 10-21 days after being exposed to a person carrying chickenpox or shingles.
Even if one receives the chickenpox vaccine, he/she may still contract the disease and can still spread it. Getting chickenpox once can provide lifetime immunity for most people. Though uncommon, people have been known to contract chickenpox more than once.
What are the symptoms of Chickenpox?
The people most susceptible to chickenpox are those who have never had it or have never been vaccinated against it. For those who contract it, it normally lasts from 5-10 days.
The telltale sign of chickenpox is a rash of itchy, fluid-filled blisters that ultimately scab over. The face, chest and back are traditionally where the rash happens first, but can also spread to other regions like the eyelids, mouth and genital area. One week is the normal timeframe for the blisters to become scabs.
Other common symptoms that may start to appear 1-2 days before the rash are:
- Loss of appetite
How is Chickenpox prevented?
Immunization for chickenpox is the most effective way of preventing the disease. Everyone, regardless of age, should receive two doses of the vaccine for chickenpox.
Preventing chickenpox via the chickenpox vaccine is safe and effective. The majority of those who receive the immunization will not get chickenpox. On the rare occasion that a vaccinated individual does contract chickenpox, it is more often than not very mild with less blistering and little to no fever.
Call a doctor if a person exposed to chickenpox:
- Has never had chickenpox and is not immunized with the chickenpox vaccine
- Has a weakened immune system caused by medication or disease, like:
- Those with HIV/AIDS
- Those with cancer
- Those who have had organ transplants
- Those on chemotherapy, immunosuppressive medicines, or long-term use of steroids
- Is pregnant
What are the treatments for Chickenpox?
The symptoms of chickenpox, as well as ways to prevent related skin infections, can be effectively addressed at home in several ways. The itching that often accompanies chickenpox blisters may be relieved using colloidal oatmeal baths and/or calamine lotion. To help prevent infections caused by scratching chickenpox blisters, keep your fingernails trimmed and short.
Over-the-counter medications may also help lessen the discomfort of chickenpox. To relieve chickenpox-related fever, take a non-aspirin medication like acetaminophen. Never take aspirin or medicine containing aspirin to address a chickenpox fever. A severe disease known as Reye's syndrome can occur in children who use aspirin to relieve the symptoms of chickenpox. Reye's syndrome can harm the liver, the brain and can result in death.
Call a physician or other health care provider if a person with chickenpox is at a heightened risk of severe complications, such as those:
- Under 1 or over 12 years of age
- with a weakened immune system
- who are pregnant
- who develop any of the following:
- Fever lasting more than 4 days
- Fever above 102°F
- Rash areas/parts of the body that become very red, warm, or tender or begin leaking pus
- Rash with severe bruising or bleeding
- Extreme sickness
- Difficulty waking or confusion
- Difficulty walking
- Stiff neck
- Severe abdominal pain
- Frequent vomiting
- Trouble breathing
- Severe cough
- Treatment options may be available from your doctor. For those with chickenpox who are at greater danger for developing serious illness, antiviral medicines may be prescribed.