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Chickenpox (Valricella)

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Description

A very contagious, mild disease caused by herpes zoster virus. It can affect all ages, but most common in children.

 

Frequent Signs & Symptoms

The following are usually mild in children, severe in adults:

  • Fever.
  • Abdominal pain or general ill feeling that lasts 1-2 days.
  • Skin eruptions that appear almost anywhere on the body, including the scalp, penis, and inside the mouth, nose, throat or vagina. They may be scattered over large areas, and they occur least on the arms and legs. Blisters collapse within 24 hours and form scabs. New crops of blisters erupt every 3 to 4 days.
  • Adults have additional symptoms that resemble influenza.

 

Causes

  • Infection with the herpes zoster virus. It is spread from person to person by airborne droplets or contact with skin eruption on an infected person. Incubation after exposure is 7 to 21 days.
  • A newborn is protected for several months from chickenpox if the mother had the disease prior to or during pregnancy. The immunity diminishes in 4 to 12 months.

 

Risk Increases with use of immunosuppressive drugs.

 

Preventative Measures

Cannot be prevented at present. An immune globulin is available for high-risk persons, such as those who take anti-cancer or immunosuppressive drugs. Live attenuated (weakened) vaccines are currently being developed.

 

Expected Outcome

  • Spontaneous recovery. Children usually recover in 7 to 10 days. Adults take longer and are more likely to develop complications.
  • After recovery, a person has lifelong immunity against recurrence of chickenpox.
  • After chickenpox runs its course, the virus sometimes remains dormant in the body (probably in the roots of nerves near the spinal cord). The same virus may later cause shingles.

 

Possible Complications

  • Secondary bacterial infection of chickenpox blisters
  • Pneumonia
  • Viral eye infection
  • Encephalitis (rare)
  • Reye's syndrome
  • Shingles many years later in adulthood (possibly)
  • Arthritis (transient)
  • Myocarditis
  • Scarring, if blisters become infected (rare)

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Hampstead, NH 03841

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