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Chickenpox is a contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It commonly affects babies and children, but adults can also suffer from it. The significant sign of chickenpox is a severely itchy skin rash with red eruptions. After the first several days, the blisters tear and start to leak. Next, crust and scab forming occurs followed by healing. Babies less than two years of age are most susceptible to chickenpox and above 90% of cases occur in babies, although it is generally mild. The blisters formation usually starts at the chest, back, and face. In some severe cases, it may involve the mouth, nose, eyes, and genitals. Other important risk factors of VZV infection are:
Babies with the chickenpox virus do not usually show any symptoms until 10 to 21 days after contact.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease and spreads easily from an individual with chickenpox. Because chickenpox can transmit through different routes:
Babies with chickenpox become contagious one to two days before the onset of symptoms, such as the rash, until crust or scab formation on all blisters. And vaccinated babies who get chickenpox develop eruptions that don’t crust; indeed, these patients are considered contagious until no new lesions have appeared for one day.
It takes about 10 to 20 days for a person to develop chickenpox after contact with an infected person.
Vaccinated people can also spread the disease if they are carrying the varicella infection. For most people, getting the varicella infection once provides life-long immunity, but some people are likely to acquire chickenpox more than once. Babies who develop shingles (another disease caused by VZV) can also get chickenpox via the fluid present in blisters.
The diagnosis of chickenpox is relatively easy. Physicians can make a confirmed diagnosis by examining the rash and asking about the history of other symptoms and exposure to the VZV virus. For unconfirmed cases, additional tests are applied, including:
In some other cases, the physician may prescribe additional testing. These cases include pregnant women, vaccinated babies, babies with a mild disease, and the presence of atypical symptoms.
Some other diseases can also cause an itchy, raised red rash or blisters on the skin. The following skin disorders result in rashes which are similar to and can be confused for chickenpox:
Some common over-the-counter drug options are available to relieve symptoms of chickenpox, like itching, pain, etc., if they become too much to bear or are troublesome to the body during day or night.
Calamine lotion is an over-the-counter topical formulation containing zinc carbonate or zinc oxide. It relieves the itch when applied directly to the affected part of the body and allowed to dry. It is now also available in clear forms. Calamine lotion comes in different compositions, so it’s important to follow any precautions printed on the bottle. Take care not to apply lotion to the eyes and mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, genitals, and anus as it can cause severe irritation in these parts.
Chickenpox characteristically causes viral symptoms like fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Motrin), both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can relieve many of these viral symptoms. The dose is adjusted properly for the kids according to age and weight. Aspirin should not be used for babies due to the adverse effects (Reye’s syndrome). Reye’s syndrome is a complex of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, lethargy, confusion, violent behavior, irritability, unresponsive baby, seizures, and sleepiness. Make sure not to give any medication containing aspirin to a baby or child under 16.
For severe itching, the oral antihistamine Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is effective. This medication commonly causes drowsiness, so it’s best to take it at night. For daytime use, new generation antihistamines such as Loratadine (Claritin), Cetirizine (Zyrtec), or Fexofenadine (Allegra) cause less sedation.
If your baby is exposed to a patient of chickenpox but does not yet have symptoms, the physician may prescribe an injection containing immunoglobulin. This can help prevent severe chickenpox.
Chickenpox can be curable using different home remedies. Dermatologists mention the following tips:
Babies cannot get the vaccine until they are at least one year old. However, cases of chickenpox in babies under 12 months went down by 90 percent. The best method to prevent chickenpox in a baby under one year of age is to have the chickenpox vaccine. Everyone, including babies, adolescents, and adults, can get two doses of the chickenpox vaccine if they’ve never suffered from chickenpox and never got vaccinated in the past. Receiving two doses of the chickenpox vaccine is around 94% effective in preventing the disease. Babies who receive the vaccination can still suffer from chickenpox, but of a mild severity. Babies should get the chickenpox vaccine as per their regular vaccine schedule:
Adults and children that aren’t vaccinated should get two doses of the vaccine with a month gap.
Some babies should not get the chickenpox vaccine. This includes those:
Pregnancy is an intricate process and any disease occurring during pregnancy will result in a more exaggerated response than usual. Chickenpox symptoms take 14 to 16 days to show after infection. Chickenpox during pregnancy may occasionally cause complications; it has been observed that the risk of developing pneumonia increases significantly during pregnancy due to chickenpox infection. The effects of chickenpox while a woman is pregnant depends on the gestational age.
If the woman is infected within chickenpox during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, there’s a risk that newborn babies may develop a condition called “Fetal varicella syndrome”. This syndrome is a rare condition and occurrence is less than 1%. However, the risk increases to 2% after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It may cause grim complications like eye defects in newborns (such as cataracts), shortened limbs, brain damage, and scarring. Chances of premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of gestation) increases. If a woman is infected with chickenpox a week before or a week after delivery of the baby, serious complications arise. This infection can be fatal. If a woman has chickenpox during pregnancy or seven days after delivery, she should urgently see her doctor. Interaction with anybody who is already infected should be strictly avoided.
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