Varicella Zoster (Chicken Pox)

Chicken pox – the varicella zoster virus – is highly contagious and most often found in children younger than 10. It is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact and by airborne droplets containing the active virus. Outbreaks occur throughout the year, but especially during March, April, and May. 

It’s important to get the chicken pox vaccine to prevent this virus. Chicken pox can be much more serious in adults and pneumonia or encephalitis can make it worse. And people who have had chicken pox are at increased risk for shingles (herpes zoster). If you’ve had chicken pox, you should be vaccinated against shingles.

Symptoms of chicken pox

Chicken pox causes itchy lesions that can spread all over the body. Usually starting as small bumps, these lesions grow in groups and progress into clear, fluid-filled sacs that ooze and crust over. Though lesions are the most common symptom of chicken pox, other symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry coughs
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting

Prevention and treatment

The best way to prevent chicken pox is to be immunized against it with a vaccine. If you’re a caregiver of someone with chicken pox, be sure to avoid physical contact to reduce your likelihood of being infected. Never give medicine containing aspirin to anyone with chicken pox, because this combination has been associated with a severe condition called Reye’s syndrome.

Treatment for chicken pox includes:

  • Antibiotics to treat secondary skin infections
  • Antihistamines and topical agents to reduce itching
  • Aveeno baths for cleansing and reducing inflammation
  • Oral antiviral medications – such as acyclovir, valacyclivir, and famciclovir – can make chicken pox less severe, especially in immunosuppressed people
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