Chickenpox

Apr 8, 2012 , Translated by Kristina Knazko

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plane-nestovice.jpg - kopie
Chickenpox is a viral illness caused by the varicella zoster virus. It is manifested by small blisters forming a rash. Chickenpox typically affects children, when its course is mild. In adulthood its course can be a lot more severe, with a higher risk of complication. The most dangerous is chickenpox during pregnancy, where the fetus can be irreversibly affected.

Chickenpox

Chickenpox, medically called varicella, is a viral infection usually affecting children of preschool or primary school age. The cause of chickenpox is the varicella zoster virus, which is part of the same group that causes herpes or infectious mononucleosis. It is important to understand that this is a different disease than the far more sever smallpox, which has been fully eradicated.

The Cause of Chickenpox

The cause of chickenpox is the varicella zoster virus, which is part of a large group of herpes viruses. They are one of the most widespread viral pathogens in both humans and animals. It is a so-called DNA virus, the kind that contains deoxyribonucleic acid in their particle (DNA). The basic characteristic of these viruses is their long term survival in an organism.

The Transmission of Chickenpox

Chickenpox exhibits droplet transmission, most often tiny droplets released from the nose or mouth when sneezing. The second cause of transmission is direct contact with the ill. The illness is very contagious and with close contact with a patient affected by chickenpox, the risk of infection is high. The disease is considered contagious 2 days before the rash appears and then throughout the whole time that the blisters are developing. During this time the patient should be isolated from the public to prevent further transmission of chickenpox. In the scab forming faze, the patient is no longer contagious.

Symptoms of Chickenpox

Chickenpox has typical symptoms that occur every time, though each patient may experience them in different intensities. At the beginning, symptoms for chickenpox are subtle, such as headaches and a slight fever. Later, small red bumps begin to appear on the head and torso, which turn into blisters within a couple of hours. The blisters keep appearing and are accompanied by severe itching. As the blisters develop, the fluid inside them clouds up and gradually diminishes, leaving only minor scabs. The illness lasts about 2 to 3 weeks and disappears without leaving scars. Once the symptoms disappear, the virus does not leave the organism. It survives in the nervous tissue and in the case of weakening of the immune system, it can be reawakened, leading to the development of shingles.

Diagnosis of Chickenpox

Diagnosis of chickenpox is based on clinical symptoms. Blisters in various stages of maturation are looked for in typical locations. Also, due to the young age of the patient, chickenpox is expected and looked for. A diagnosis is made by taking a swab of a blister and testing for the presence of the virus. Similarly, it is possible to determine specific antibodies against the virus in the patient's blood sample.

Treatment of Chickenpox

The treatment of chickenpox is focused on symptom control. Since this is a viral illness, chickenpox cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antiviral medication, medically called antivirals, are not administered either as these are effective in the treatment of cold sores. Chickenpox is primarily treated with the goal of reducing accompanying symptoms. Medications to reduce fever are administered and blisters are covered with powder or anti-inflammatory cream. After treating the blisters, they are left alone so the skin can breathe and aid in healing. In more complicated cases, antivirals are administered in the form of pills or injectable solutions. However, this is quite rare. Today, immunization against chickenpox is available, but is not used often. The only exceptions are adults that did not get chickenpox in childhood and are at an increased risk of infection, such as teachers and other workers that are in contact with children.

Complications of Chickenpox

Complications of chickenpox may occur for various reasons. Most often the illness occurs in children, when the basic manifestation is a rash. The main complications of chickenpox include bacterial infection entering the blisters when scratched. In adults, chickenpox may be more aggressive. Other than on the skin, chickenpox can affect the mucous glands in the mouth, mainly the hard palate and on the inside of the cheek. In adults, common complications are pneumonia, bleeding abnormalities, damaged liver or joins. Another dangerous but rare complication is herpes meningoencephalitis, inflammation of the meninges and of the brain.

Chickenpox in Pregnancy

The biggest risk is chickenpox during pregnancy. The chickenpox virus gets transmitted through the placenta and can cause irreversible damage to the fetus. If the woman is affected by chickenpox in the first trimester, there is a risk of congenital varicella syndrome. It causes developmental defects of the limbs, eyes and skull and scars on the skin. Newborns can be affected by neonatal varicella, which occurs if the mother is affected by chickenpox from 5 days before until 2 days after the birth. Therefore the effect on the newborn depends on the time that the mother became ill.

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