Conditions InDepth: Chickenpox
Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection. It produces a widespread itchy rash and crusting. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). The virus can spread from person to person via:
- Airborne droplets of moisture containing the VZV virus
- Direct contact with fluid from a chickenpox rash
The virus is most contagious for 1-2 days before the rash erupts and during the first day or so after the rash has broken out. It remains contagious until all of the blisters have crusted.
Because of an extensive ]]>vaccination]]> program, the incidence of chickenpox has declined greatly in the United States. The majority of cases (about 90%) occur in infants, children, and adolescents under age 14. The incidence among adults 20 or older is very low (approximately 5% of cases). When contracted during childhood, chickenpox is usually not serious. Serious complications are more common when contracted by adults (including adolescents), newborns, or people with a suppressed immune system. These complications can include:
- ]]>Pneumonia]]> (usually in adults or older children)
- Liver or kidney inflammation
- Central nervous system complications, including:
- Bacterial infections from Group A streptococci and Staphylococcus aurea leading to infections in skin, ]]>toxic shock syndrome]]>, bacterimia, arteritis, ]]>gangrene]]>, ]]>osteomylitis]]>, ]]>pericarditis]]>, ]]>cellulitis]]>
- Bleeding problems due to low platelet counts
- If a susceptible mother catches chickenpox while pregnant, damage to the baby may occasionally result. Some associated birth defects include: poor growth of arms or legs, skin scarring, small head, and perhaps mental retardation or other abnormalities of the nervous system
- ]]>Shingles]]> is a complication of chickenpox that can occur years later.
]]>What are the risk factors for chickenpox?]]>
]]>What are the symptoms of chickenpox?]]>
]]>How is chickenpox diagnosed?]]>
]]>What are the treatments for chickenpox?]]>
]]>Are there screening tests for chickenpox?]]>
]]>How can I reduce my risk of chickenpox?]]>
]]>What questions should I ask my doctor?]]>
]]>Where can I get more information about chickenpox?]]>
American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.familydoctor.org/ .
The Merck Manual of Medical Information. 17th ed. Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2000.
National Centers for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod .
Last reviewed February 2009 by ]]>David Juan, MD ]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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