Chickenpox used to be a very common childhood skin disease caused by varicella-zoster virus infection. Following mass vaccination, it is becoming increasingly rare.
Most people who will catch chickenpox do so before the age of 15, usually between the ages of 5 and 9. However, it can affect any age group.
Chickenpox is highly contagious, being easily passed between family members and classmates. There are various means of transmission: airborne particles, droplets in exhaled air, fluid from chickenpox blisters or sores, or contact with articles (such as clothing) that have been in contact with open sores. Patients are generally contagious between five days before and five days after the rash appears.
Symptoms usually appear about 2 weeks after exposure to the varicella virus. The initial symptoms are usually mild fever for 1-2 days, weakness, and rash. It is possible (but rare) to have chickenpox without a rash.
The chickenpox rash develops in patches, starting with raised red spots which then become blisters that burst, and then open sores, before finally forming a crust. The rash is usually very itchy and starts on the scalp, moving on to the trunk (where it becomes most severe), and finally the limbs. Irritated skin, such as skin affected by diaper rash, eczema, sunburn, etc., is likely to be more severely affected.
There is not much that can be done aside from alleviating the symptoms of fever and intense itching. Certain antiviral medications can slightly shorten the duration of the infection.
Chickenpox is usually more severe in adults and very young infants than in children.
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