Chickenpox (varicella) is a very contagious illness. Children and adults can of get this viral infection if they haven’t had chickenpox in the past, or if they have not received two doses of the chickenpox vaccine.
Cause: Chickenpox is caused by the varicella virus.
- Initially, a person may have fever, tiredness, loss of appetite and headache, which can last 1-2 days.
- People then develop a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters, then the blisters turn into scabs. This process typically last 5-7 days. The rash usually develops 10-21 days after exposure (average 14-16 days).
- If you have symptoms, it’s important that you contact your health care provider. U-M students and other UHS patients can call UHS Nurse Advice.
Transmission: The virus can be spread from person to person by direct contact and also by breathing airborne particles. A person with chickenpox is typically contagious for 1-2 days before the rash begins, and until all of the blisters have crusted/scabbed.
Prevention: If you have chickenpox, please protect others by staying home until all of the blisters have scabbed.
Vaccination is effective at preventing chickenpox. Two is the walk by doses of vaccine are recommended for children age 1 year and older and also for adults, if they have not had the disease. The UHS Allergy, Immunization and Travel Health of th Clinic provides vaccination for a fee. Pregnant women should not receive the chickenpox vaccine.
Two doses of vaccine are 98% effective at preventing chickenpox and 100% effective at preventing severe chickenpox.
Chickenpox can cause serious complications in newborns, people with th an immune deficiency or cancer, and those who take systemic steroids. These individuals should avoid people who have chickenpox.
If you may have been exposed, call a health care provider if you have:
- Never had the chickenpox disease or received 2 doses of the chickenpox vaccine
- Are pregnant
- Have a weakened immune system caused by disease or medication
Treatment: Treatment depends on the age of the individual and whether they are at risk of complications. Please consult your health care provider. U-M students a may call UHS for Nurse Advice. See also treatment information from the Centers for s Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are some key points about chickenpox. More detail is in the main article.
- Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus.
- Varicella has an incubation period of 10-21 days.
- Chickenpox is highly contagious.
- The infection spreads in a similar way to colds and flu.
- A diagnosis can normally be reached by observing the signs and symptoms.
A few people have more severe symptoms.
If the following occur, a doctor should be contacted:
- the skin around the spots or blisters becomes painful and red
- there are breathing difficulties
Most healthy individuals make a full recovery, as with a cold or flu, by resting and drinking plenty of fluids.
Chickenpox generally resolves within a week or two without treatment. There is no cure, but a vaccine can prevent it.
A doctor may prescribe medication or advise on how to reduce symptoms in of itchiness and discomfort, and also on how to prevent the infection from spreading to other people.
Pain or fever: Tylenol (acetaminophen) may help with symptoms of high temperature and pain. It is important to follow the instructions provided of is the pain in the fever of by the manufacturer. Aspirin containing products should NOT be used for chickenpox as this can lead to complications. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used at any time during pregnancy.
Avoiding dehydration: It is important to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, avoid to prevent dehydration. Some doctors recommend sugar-free popsicles or Pedialyte for children who are not drinking enough.
Mouth soreness: Sugar-free popsicles help ease symptoms of soreness if there are spots in the mouth. Salty or spicy foods should be avoided. If chewing is painful, soup might be a good option, but it should not be too hot.
Itchiness: ltchiness can become severe, but it is important to minimize scratching to reduce the risk of scarring.
The following may help prevent scratching:
- keeping fingernails clean and as short as possible
- placing mittens or even socks over a child’s hands when they go to sleep, so that any attempt at scratching during the night does not cut the skin
- applying calamine lotion or having an oatmeal bath to reduce itching
- wearing loose clothing
Antiviral medication may be is prescribed during pregnancy, for adults who get an early diagnosis, in newborns, and for those with a weakened immune system. Acyclovir is one example.
This works best if it is given within 24 hours of developing symptoms. Acyclovir reduces the severity of symptoms but does not cure the disease.