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Understanding Chicken Pox: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Updated: May 10

Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral disease that most commonly affects children. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and spreads easily through coughing, sneezing or contact with the fluid from chickenpox blisters. The most distinctive symptom is an itchy, spotty rash that develops into fluid-filled blisters and progresses in successive crops over several days.


While chickenpox tends to be mild in healthy children, it can have more serious complications in teens, adults, and those with weakened immunity. Understanding the symptoms, treatment options and preventive measures for chickenpox allows for early detection and proper management to avoid severe illness. Key points include recognising the rash, managing fever and discomfort, preventing scratching and infections, and considering vaccination.


Vaccination against varicella, commonly known as chickenpox, has been recommended by The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).


Chickenpox Treatment and Prevention

Symptoms


The most distinctive symptom of chickenpox is the itchy skin rash. The rash begins as small red bumps that look like insect bites. These bumps then fill with fluid and turn into thin-walled blisters. The blisters appear in several successive crops over 3-5 days and will be at various stages of development at any given time. They are most numerous on the trunk but can spread to the entire body, including inside the mouth, ears, and vagina. Other chickenpox symptoms include:


  • Fever, usually mild, preceding the rash by 1-2 days

  • General discomfort, illness, and loss of appetite

  • Headache

  • Fatigue and lethargy


Some children have very mild symptoms with only a few poxes. But others, especially adults, can become quite ill with several hundred spots. New spots stop forming within about 5 days.


Treatment


There is no specific treatment that kills the varicella virus. Chickenpox runs its course in about 7-10 days in children. Treatment aims to ease symptoms and prevent complications.


Key aspects are:


  • Resting in bed until fever resolves

  • Drinking plenty of fluids

  • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce fever and discomfort

  • Calamine lotion and cool baths to soothe itching

  • Keeping fingernails short to prevent skin damage from scratching

  • Avoiding scratching and touching blisters to prevent infection

  • Wearing loose clothing to avoid irritation


Those at increased risk of severe chickenpox may need antiviral medication such as aciclovir. Bacterial skin infections are a common complication and may require antibiotic treatment. Dehydration, pneumonia, and encephalitis are other potential complications requiring medical care.


Prevention


The best way to prevent chickenpox is vaccination. The varicella vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing infection and is part of routine childhood immunisation in many countries. In the UK, it is offered to high-risk groups such as healthcare workers and those with weakened immune systems. Two doses are given at age 1 and 3 years.


Those with weakened immune systems, such as from leukaemia, HIV or immunosuppressive medications have an increased risk of severe chickenpox. Vaccination can help reduce this risk. But the vaccine may be less effective, so other preventive medication may also be required after exposure.


Chickenpox spreads very easily to others in the household. To help prevent transmission:


  • Isolate the infected person from others in the house

  • Discourage scratching to prevent wound infections

  • Disinfect any objects touched by fluid from blisters

  • Avoid contact with women who are pregnant and have not had chickenpox


If an unvaccinated person is exposed to chickenpox, the varicella vaccine may be given within 3-5 days to prevent onset of disease. Those who cannot receive vaccination may get antiviral medication.


Understanding the typical symptoms and treatment of chickenpox helps in early detection and recovery. Chicken pox vaccination in Oxford is key for prevention, especially in high-risk groups. With proper precautions and management, chickenpox can resolve safely in most people without serious complications. But prompt medical attention is important if more concerning symptoms develop.

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