Chickenpox is a contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It spreads from one person to another through coughs and sneezes. Chickenpox occurs commonly in children but can affect adults as well. Once a child is infected with it, he acquires a lifelong immunity from the disease. The most characteristic symptom is an itchy rash that forms blisters that in turn end up forming scabs. Chickenpox is typically a self-limiting condition. However, it can be a real danger for people with low immunity, including pregnant women and newborns.
Spots are usually the earliest definite sign of chicken pox. The rash generally takes the form of elevated reddish spots with no visible fluid inside them. These itchy spots start at the chest and back. They then spread to the face and end up covering the entire body. The rash can last up to one month, while the infectious stage is usually only one to two weeks. A person with chickenpox is infectious one to two days before the appearance of any symptoms.
The elevated red papules of chicken pox soon accumulate fluid and form small yellow blisters or vesicles. The fluid inside the vesicles gradually builds up and presses against the wall of the cyst. The vesicle then ruptures and forms an open sore. The fluid dries up and forms a crust. Due to the intensely itchy nature of those vesicles, children usually want to scratch the vesicles. Keep their nails clean and cut to prevent them from scratching. Scratching will only spread the infection from one part of the body to another.
The vesicular fluid dries and forms crusts or scabs that tend to resolve on their own in one to two weeks. During this time, patients should be aware of some important signs. If the rash becomes painful, hot, and tender, it may be a sign of secondary bacterial infection. Seek medical treatment if there are any associated breathing difficulties or if the rash spreads to one or both eyes.
Oral Cavity Spots
This form of an internal rash, or enanthem, presents itself inside the mouth and may spread to the tonsils as well. Oral cavity spots tend to form small painful ulcers. The internal rash can appear simultaneously with the skin rash or one to three days before it. It’s a common feature of viral infection that manifests in measles and roseola infantum as well.
Fever is one of the prodromal signs of any viral infection. Prodromal signs are usually flu-like symptoms that occur before the rash. They are non-specific and don’t pinpoint a varicella-zoster virus infection. However, they indicate that a virus is present in the bloodstream. The fever associated with chicken pox is typically low grade. This means that the body temperature is elevated but remains less than 100.4 F. High fever of 103 F and up is a sign of a secondary bacterial infection.
Children infected with chicken pox will feel pain in their muscles. This is another prodromal symptom present in many viral diseases. When someone with no history of trauma complains of muscle ache, it’s usually due to a viral infection. As a result of this pain, the child may feel exhausted, fatigued and unable to do any usual daily activity.
Varicella zoster virus can produce headaches, which might affect a child’s ability to concentrate. The headache subsides once the virus is no longer active. However, the virus may lead to more dangerous neurological complications. These may include inflammation of brain tissue and of the cerebellum. The latter is the part of the brain that helps control gait, balance and muscle coordination.
Chickenpox typically causes a decrease in the child’s desire to eat. The child may experience nausea and vomiting. Some kids experience inflammation of their gastrointestinal system as well. Because the disease lasts a short period, this appetite loss will probably not cause significant weight loss. Parents shouldn’t try to force the child to eat. However, they should try to feed their child whenever they’re hungry.
Congenital Varicella Syndrome
A woman who hasn’t been vaccinated can get infected with the varicella-zoster virus during her pregnancy. The first six months of pregnancy are associated with higher infections of the virus. If a woman is infected before the 28th week of pregnancy, the virus can pass through the placenta. This means it can affect the fetus. Infection can cause many congenital malformations and disorders. Some of them include brain damage, congenital or inflammatory disorders in the eye, neurological abnormalities, and bladder dysfunction.
If the mother acquires this infection within the last three weeks of her pregnancy, the virus passes through the placenta. The result is the infection of the child. In this case, the condition is called neonatal varicella. Neonatal varicella can also occur after birth. It’s less likely to cause congenital anomalies, but it is still a serious condition. Neonatal varicella leads to death in one out of five newborn babies with the infection. Infection of the newborn is more dangerous when it occurs from five to 12 days of age. The good news is that neonates born to a vaccinated mother are protected from acquiring the infection.