Chickenpox

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Chickenpox is a viral infection that can affect people living in almost every corner of the world. The varicella-zoster virus responsible for causing chickenpox attacks children more than adults. That is why vaccination drives for immunisation of children against the chickenpox virus are important and the results are also promising. However, as compared to other conditions that can be prevented by immunisation, like measles and mumps, chickenpox by far has the lowest positive serology results. This means that the people who have antibodies for the chickenpox virus in their blood are low in comparison to other similar diseases. Let’s cover everything related to chickenpox, its causes, symptoms, treatment and insurance options. 

What Causes Chickenpox?

Chickenpox is caused by a virus named varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It belongs to the herpesviruses family which conclusively include more than 100 different viruses. Some of these viruses include herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 and Epstein-Barr virus as well. All these viruses primarily affect the skin, membranes, mucus, tissues as well as nerves. Varicella-zoster virus is highly contagious. It can spread via a simple sneeze or if a person happens to touch the fluid that fills up the chickenpox blisters. 

Chickenpox Symptoms

  • Fever
  • Lost appetite
  • Headache
  • A feeling of tiredness 
  • Rashes on the skin - there can be three types of rashes in chickenpox depending on the stage:
    • Paules or raised pink bump-like structures which may appear every now and then.
    • The pink bump-like structures are now fluid-filled which may break and start to leak in a day or two.
    • Crust now forms over the blisters and the bumps start to heal. The crust falls off in a few days.

The rashes in chickenpox are extremely itchy and continue to appear throughout the infection. It is advised to never scratch these rashes as they leave a mark and make way for new ones. The new blisters and rashes will be filled with fluid which makes them infectious. The infection will die off when the blisters on the body have a crust over them. Chickenpox infection is finally considered gone when the crust falls of the rashes and they are gone. 

Who Is at Risk of Getting Chickenpox?

If you have already been exposed to the virus or have received the chickenpox vaccine, the risk is reduced. However, there are still some factors that may put you on the radar of getting chickenpox yourself. Following are some of the high-risk categories:

  • Pregnant woman and her to be born baby. Mothers who have immunity against chickenpox often transfer it to their newborn children. 
  • Children younger than 12 years old.
  • Adults living with young children who have not had the infection yet. 
  • Spending time with young children like school or daycare facility. 
  • Having a compromised immune system. 
  • Kids and adults who have not been vaccinated yet. 
  • Adults and children with the weaker immune system.

How Does Chickenpox Spreads

There are four main ways chickenpox can spread:

  • Saliva: Eating or drinking from the same utensils that the infected person uses or coming in physical contact with them. 
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Contact with blister fluid – chickenpox blisters are filled with a fluid that carries the infection virus itself. Coming in contact with this fluid can spread the infection to other people. 

Chickenpox Stages

Chickenpox stages can be divided into two parts: before the rashes and after the rashes. Following chickenpox symptoms can appear before the rashes begin to show:

  • The feeling of being unwell or extreme fatigue
  • Fever higher than 102 degrees which persist for more than 3 days
  • Lost appetite
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Runny nose and other common cold-like symptoms 
  • Severe headache

Rashes may start to appear after these initial chickenpox symptoms. 

  • The initial rashes may appear on the face, body or inside the mouth. These rashes are often itchy. 
  • Some spots may form as well. Places like eyelids may also get chickenpox rashes. How severe a rash can become differs for every infected person. 
  • In the next stage, these rashes may get filled with fluid and turn into blisters of some sort. 
  • This fluid is highly infectious so everyone healthy must keep away. It may take up to 5 days for the blisters to heal completely. 
  • The healing process will begin once the fluid dries and the blisters become scabs covered with a crust. When the crust falls off, the blisters will be completely healed. It may take up to a week for that. 

Chickenpox Diagnosis

Doctors can generally diagnose chickenpox via a physical examination only. However, rashes that come forth in chickenpox cannot be differentiated from other kinds of rashes generally. If the physical exam is not enough to diagnose chickenpox, the doctors may run a few exams on the blister fluids to see if the chickenpox virus is present there. A sample is taken from the blisters by popping one of them for this test. 

Complications Related to Chickenpox

  • Scarring: The rashes that develop in chickenpox often leave scars. This is especially true if they turn into big blisters with a lot of fluid filled in of them. This is why it is advisable to not scratch these rashes or blisters. 
  • Encephalitis: This is a condition that causes inflammation in the brain. The inflammation caused by chickenpox is generally very mild. Sensitivity to light, stiffness in neck confusion and seizures are some conditions that encephalitis may cause. 
  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is a respiratory disease that causes infection and inflammation in the lungs. It generally happens to adults with chickenpox infection. 
  • Bleeding: While haemorrhagic or bleeding complications are rare, they can still appear with chickenpox infection. The blisters or rashes of chickenpox begin to bleed if a bleeding disorder occurs in the patients. It is most common among patients with a compromised immune system.
  • Bacterial Infections: Cellulitis is a type of bacterial infection that can be one of the major complications of chickenpox infection. It is a deep infection of the skin usually caused when an injury or illness leads to skin breaking. 
  • Reye’s Syndrome: This is a very rare disease that leads to swelling of the brain and/or liver. Children or teenagers who take aspirin during chickenpox infection may develop Reye’s syndrome.  
  • Death: Death due to chickenpox infection is very rare but is still a very real possibility. 

Complications of Chickenpox for Pregnant

The complications that accompany chickenpox infection are a little different for pregnant women. While almost 90% of pregnant women have immunity against the VZV viral infection, a few cases still come forth every now and then. Even among these few cases of chickenpox in pregnant women, complications are rare and limited only to women who get the infection first time in their life. 

For first-timers, chickenpox during pregnancy can lead to complications like pneumonia, encephalitis and hepatitis. Pregnant mothers who get chickenpox may even lead to congenital disorders in their unborn babies. Varicella syndrome is the most common congenital disorder that affects infants when mothers get chickenpox during pregnancy. It is extremely rare and may cause a number of things ranging from scarring on the skin, low birth weight, cataracts, cerebral cortical atrophy and abnormalities of other body parts. Given below are other complications that may affect the new-borns:

  • Shingles – if the mother got chickenpox between the 20th and 36th week of the pregnancy.
  • Scarring and neurological disorders– if the mother got infected with the first twenty weeks.
  • New-borns with chickenpox infection – if the mother got infected no more than 4 weeks before the birth of the child. 
  • More severe complications may occur if the infection happens no more than seven days before the birth of the child – for both the child and the mother. 

Chickenpox Treatment

Chickenpox treatment does not generally include any medications. A few antiviral drugs may be prescribed in severe cases to lower the chance of complications. However, since most chickenpox cases are mild, they can be treated by simply taking care of a few remedies at home. Following are the things patients are advised to do for chickenpox treatment:

  • Complete bed rest – this is not only essential to ensure that you lose as little energy as possible but also to make sure that other healthy people are not infected. 
  • Adding extra fluids to the diet to beat dehydration.
  • Paracetamol: If the patient seems to have a fever in chickenpox, giving paracetamol is the safest bet. Aspirin and other similar medicines should be kept at bay as they can cause added complications. 
  • Bathing in oatmeal-soaked lukewarm water mixed with baking soda is seen to help with the itching of chickenpox rashes and blisters. 
  • Lotions like calamine may also be prescribed for itching. Patients with skin conditions may need to see a doctor to ensure that prescribed medications do not flare up other skin conditions. 
  • No salty and citrus foods/fruits are also a part of chickenpox treatment.
  • Mittens for babies and children if they do not stop scratching the rashes. 

Chickenpox in Adults

While both adults and children can get chickenpox, adults are more likely to develop complications. Studies show that adults maybe 25% more at risk of death due to chickenpox. Other serious complications like pneumonia and inflammation of the brain may also appear in adults with chickenpox. Chickenpox in adults can last roughly from 10 t 21 days depending on the severity of the infection. the treatment plan remains to be the same as in the case of children and teenagers. Bathing in oatmeal-soaked water mixed with salt and calamine solution for itchy rashes along with paracetamol for fever. Seek the doctor’s advice if any new complications arise. More rashes and higher temperature may occur as symptoms of chickenpox in adults as compared to children. 

Chickenpox vs Shingles 

Shingles are also caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. When a person has already had chickenpox and recovered, the VZV virus lies dormant in the body. As the person grows older, the virus may become active again and cause shingles. The symptoms of shingles are similar to that of chickenpox. However, most episodes are mild. Rashes also occur on either side of the body near the torso. Shingles rashes develop as a strip instead of spreading all over the torso. Other symptoms that we see in chickenpox like, fever, itching, burning and fatigue may also appear. Generally, people with weaker immune systems get shingles after getting chickenpox. This is why it is more common to get it when you are older. Shingles only appear once during the lifetime of a person and are easily treatable using the same steps apply for chickenpox. Just like chickenpox, shingles is also contagious and hence distance should be practised during the time of infection. You can also receive a shingles vaccine to prevent any further episodes after getting chickenpox. 

Prevention of Chickenpox

Chickenpox used to be an almost unavoidable atrocity in the olden times but this outlook has changed completely after the arrival of the chickenpox vaccine. Children who are 12-15 months old can receive the chickenpox vaccine and then get a booster shot when they are 4-6 years old. The chickenpox vaccine prevents the infection in up to 98% of folks which is an impressive success rate to look forward to. If a person was unable to get a dose of the vaccine in their childhood, they can look for a catch-up dose instead and cover the preventive steps. For people who cannot get the chickenpox vaccine, the best way to prevent it is to avoid contact with the infected person, completely if possible. Most people who have had chickenpox once in their life already develop immunity towards the virus which also serves as a shield for the future. The human body is capable of treating chickenpox infection on its own in most cases, as explained above. So, all you need to do is stay sanitised and keep your distance from the infected person, as much as possible. 

Health Insurance for Chickenpox

Chickenpox itself almost never calls for hospitalisation or hefty medical attention. The only thing that remains to be covered by health insurance is the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox vaccination is generally covered for infants by many providers in primary preventive care plans for immunisation. It is generally included as a part of the standard immunisation cover of the plans under the name varicella vaccine. However, health insurance coverage of the chickenpox vaccine for adults may entirely depend on the providers. Some may include it while others may not. It is best to take a look at the policy wordings or confirm with the provider for the same. There may also be a few providers which offer coverage for hospitalisation and other related services for chickenpox. Yet again, this is highly dependent on your provider and the limits of the health insurance plan that you have. 

In a Nutshell 

Chickenpox is highly contagious as well as infectious if you are not vaccinated with preventive medicine. However, the good news is that it generally occurs in mild forms and is very easy to keep under control. Chickenpox may cause complications if you are not careful with the healing process. Take ample rest and do not scratch the rashes. Make sure you get your adult vaccine if you have never had chickenpox and shingles vaccine if you have already had it. Keep a good health insurance plan handy as a backup.