Chicken pox is an acute and highly contagious disease caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV). It is also known as varicella. It commonly affects children in the temperate regions while in the tropics/ warmer climates it affects more adults with a significantly higher rate of complication and death.

It has an incubation period (period of contacting the infection to the time the symptoms begin to manifest) of 10-21 days.

Symptoms

The symptoms usually last for five to seven days and they include;

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Generalized body pain and weakness
  • Skin rash which forms small itchy blisters which starts from the chest, back, face and then spreads to the parts of the body. The blisters might also be seen in the palms, soles, genital area and the oral cavity.
  • Intense itching

Mode of transmission

The virus can be contacted via cough and sneeze of an infected person, also via contact with the blisters (rashes). The blisters are usually contagious until they all become dry crust (scabs).

Complication

The virus is rarely fatal in children and in people with good immune system. The complications that can result include;

  • superimposed bacterial infection such as cellulitis, pneumonia
  • neurological complication such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • shingles; following the primary infection the virus remains latent in the nerve cells and may be reactivated after some years leading to secondary infection. This is painful rash along the path supplied by the nerve and can lead to permanent nerve damage.

Treatment

Chicken pox is self-limiting and usually resolves on its own.  It is however  managed symptomatically via;

  • Antipyretics such as acetaminophen can be given by the doctor to control the fever, it can also help with the pain.
  • Anti-histamine can be given to reduce the itching
  • Keep finger nails short and clean to minimize itching and scaring. Also wear loose clothing to prevent rubbing on the blisters.
  • Calamine lotion can be applied to the skin to reduce itching.
  • It is important you drink plenty fluids preferably water to prevent dehydration.
  • Anti-viral drugs such as acylclovir can be given at the early onset of the disease to adults and newborns with low immunity to reduce the severity of the disease. Antiviral is not a cure of the virus.

In pregnant women the disease has greater impact if she has the infection in the first six months. The virus can spread to the fetus and lead to ; damage to the brain, eye, and spinal cord, hypoplasia of the upper and lower extremities, anal and bladder dysfunction and hypopigmentation. When the infection occurs close to delivery it can lead to premature delivery and neonatal chicken pox. Newborns with neonatal chicken pox are more at risk of having pneumonia and a more complicated disease.

Chicken pox can be prevented by immunization with live attenuated vaccine. It protects about 70 to 90 percent of people from disease. It is given to children at 9 months. It can also be given to adults who have never had the disease.