Grow Youthful: How to Slow Your Aging and Enjoy Extraordinary Health
Grow Youthful: How to Slow Your Aging and Enjoy Extraordinary Health

Chickenpox

What is chicken pox?

Symptoms of chicken pox

Managing chicken pox

What is chicken pox?

Chicken pox (herpes zoster, shingles, zoster, zona, varicella) is a highly contagious viral disease. Most people are infected as children; however, if it is contracted as an adult it is more serious, and especially if pregnant (see a doctor).

Note: Herpes zoster is NOT the same disease as herpes simplex despite the name similarity.

After an episode of chickenpox has resolved the virus is not eliminated from the body. Years or decades after the initial infection it can occasionally go on to cause shingles, an illness with very different symptoms (such as a painful rash). Although the rash usually heals within two to four weeks, some sufferers experience residual nerve pain for months or years, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia.

Worldwide, the incidence of herpes zoster ranges from 1.2 to 3.4 cases per 1,000 healthy individuals each year, increasing to 3.9 to 11.8 among those older than 65 years.

Increasing age, and a compromised or weak immune system seem to be the greatest risk factors for severe symptoms or an outbreak of shingles years after the initial infection.

The infected person is extremely contagious after the rash appears, and until their rash has developed crusts.

Symptoms of chicken pox

In children the symptoms tend to be mild, whereas in adults the symptoms can be more painful and severe, and longer lasting.

Between one and three weeks after contact with the source of infection, a child may have a headache, mild fever and malaise.

Next may come sensations of burning pain, itching, tingling, pricking, stinging, numbness, over-sensitivity or "pins and needles".

In most cases after 1-2 days, but sometimes after as long as 3 weeks, the above symptoms are followed by the appearance of the characteristic skin rash. The pain and rash most commonly occurs on the torso, but can appear on the face, eyes or other parts of the body. The rash appears in a characteristic strip or belt-like pattern. Initially the rash is similar to hives, but then itchy or painful blisters develop that crust over after 7-10 days. Usually the crusts fall off and the skin heals, but scarring can occur.

The rash and pain usually subside within 3-5 weeks, but in a few cases much longer.

In 10-25% of cases, the eye can be infected. Rarely, other symptoms include conjunctivitis, keratitis, uveitis, and optic nerve palsies that can sometimes cause chronic ocular inflammation, loss of vision, and debilitating pain. If the ear is infected, this can cause loss of hearing or vertigo.

Managing chicken pox

See a doctor if: There is any chance of pregnancy; pus filled spots or blisters develop near the eyes; there are convulsions, breathing problems, headache or earache.