Chicken Pox

What is Chicken Pox?

Chicken pox is a highly contagious viral infection caused by the varicella virus. Chicken pox is a disease of childhood and ninety percent of cases occur in children aged fourteen years and younger. Chicken pox can occur at any time, but occurs most often in March, April, and May in warmer climates. Chicken pox is typically diagnosed clinically based on the history of viral symptoms and the characteristic appearance of the rash. However, sometimes chicken pox can be confused with herpes simplex, impetigo, insect bites, or scabies.

Most people are aware of the rash, but chicken pox starts out looking just like a common cold. Runny nose, sneezing, cough, and fever are typical first symptoms of chicken pox. Three to five days later the rash shows up.

Chicken Pox RashesChicken Pox

The rash itself appears as dots ranging from the size of an eraser head to about the size of a dime. Within each of these dots is a fluid filled vesicle which may pop over the course of the following days. The lesions may be painful, itch, or not be bothersome at all. They may be found anywhere on the skin, in the mouth and within the vaginal area and even unseen within the penis. Urination may be painful because of this.

The most contagious time occurs when the person is manifesting the cold-like symptoms.  This happens usually two to five days before the rash appears. As a result the time in which someone is most contagious occurs before the person even knows he has chicken pox.  After the rash appears, the person is infectious for about five days or until all the lesions have begun crusting over.

Who gets Chicken Pox?

Humans are the only animals that get chicken pox. So the only way to catch it is by being around a person who is infected. The virus is spread through secretions and by tiny droplets, so sharing saliva, sneezing, and coughing are good ways to pass the virus from one person to another.

Children with immune problems can have significant problems if infected with chicken pox. These include those children infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, those with cancer, those on steroids for other illnesses, and newborn babies.

There is not a lot that can be done to completely eliminate the symptoms once a child is infected with chicken pox. Most treatment is then aimed at trying to alleviate the pain, itch, and fever associated with chicken pox.