Chickenpox
(Varicella)
BASIC INFORMATION
DESCRIPTION
A very contagious, mild disease caused by herpes zoster virus. It can affect all ages, but most common in children.
FREQUENT SIGNS AND 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 immunosuppresive drugs.

PREVENTITIVE 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
Shingles many years later in adulthood (possibly)
Pneumonia
Arthritis (transient)
Viral eye infection
Myocarditis
Encephalitis (rare)
Scarring, if blisters become infected (rare)
Reye's syndrome
 
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Timothy L. Biliouris, M.D.
65 Route 134 Dennis, MA 02660
508-394-7113