Chickenpox is an illness caused by the very contagious varicella-zoster virus. Most cases of chickenpox happen during childhood, although an adult can also develop it. When children get chickenpox, the first sign is usually a fever. Several days later, a rash will appear with red spots that will evolve into fluid-filled blisters. The amount of the spots varies with some children getting only a few and others getting up to several hundred all over their bodies. After about 4-5 days, the blisters will dry up and scabs will form.
Chickenpox is most contagious after the fever appears but before the rash does. It spreads from person to person via bodily fluid transfer from a contact with the person with the virus. For example, children spread chickenpox through simple things like spreading saliva to each other through sneezing, coughing, touching a contaminated toy, or sharing food. If a pregnant woman has the chickenpox, she can pass it on to her unborn baby through gestation or following birth.
Symptoms of Chickenpox
The itchy red rash caused by the infection appears 10-21 days after exposure to the virus and lasts 5-10 days. Once the rash appears, there are 3 distinct phases.
- Stage 1: Raised pink or red bumps called papules break out over several days.
- Stage 2: The bumps become small fluid-filled blisters called vesicles and, in a few days,, they pop and leak.
- Stage 3: The blisters scab over and eventually heal over several days.
New bumps will continue to form over several days so it is possible to have blisters in all 3 stages at the same time. A person is contagious and remains so until every blister has popped and scabbed over. If children aren’t vaccinated against chickenpox, a doctor can prescribe some medication to lessen the effects and treat complications from the condition.
Fortunately, there is a vaccine for chickenpox, and it is recommended that all healthy children 1 year and older get the vaccine for protection from the chickenpox and shingles (a condition that is caused by the exposure to the varicella-zoster virus). The original vaccine should be followed by a booster when the child is 4-6 years old. Vaccinations are crucial in preventing the spread of a variety of conditions including the chickenpox. It is important to get your child vaccinated so he or she doesn’t spread it to other children in daycare or school. This effort of vaccinating as many people as possible protects the entire community.
While most children recover from the chickenpox and go on to live long and healthy lives, some complications can happen. Chickenpox can be accompanied by a bacterial skin infection and can lead to dehydration, pneumonia, encephalitis (or inflammation of the brain). Before giving your child any medications, consult with a doctor. For example, in some cases, children who take aspirin while they have the chickenpox are at a higher risk of developing Reye’s Syndrome, a very rare and dangerous condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain. For these reasons, it’s crucial to vaccinate your children, and if your child has symptoms similar to the chickenpox, immediately consult with a doctor.
Children can face a lot of skin-related issues like the chickenpox, and it’s important to have good doctors by your side to get the right diagnoses and treatments. The Children’s Skin Center specializes in treating a variety of skin, hair, nail, and mucous membrane-related issues such as the chickenpox. If you or your child have any dermatological needs, make an appointment today by calling (305) 669-6555 or request an appointment online.