Chickenpox is a common childhood disease that used to affect nearly everyone before they reached adulthood. "Chickenpox parties" were common during the second half of the 20th century, at which mothers would deliberately expose their children to children with the disease in hopes of "getting it over with" while the children were young. With the advent of a vaccine, however, chickenpox is less common today.
Chickenpox Is Caused by a Virus and Is Contagious
The varicella zoster virus, which is in the same family as the herpes virus, is responsible for causing chickenpox. This virus is spread through contact with the pox, as well as through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The Directors of Health Promotion and Education state that if you are not immune to chickenpox and are exposed, there is a 70 to 80 percent chance that you will come down with the illness.
Chickenpox Creates a Rash
The main symptom of chickenpox is a widespread rash of very itchy, blisterlike pox. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the blisters tend to be on the face, scalp and torso. You may have a mild case with only a few pox, or a severe case with hundreds of pox. Most people with chickenpox also have a fever.
Complications Can Be Serious
Most children recover fully from chickenpox. A few people, more commonly adults and teenagers, have serious complications, including bacterial infections, pneumonia and brain swelling. Complications may be more severe for those who are immunocompromised.
Chickenpox Is Dangerous to Pregnant Women
Pregnant women who acquire chickenpox may transmit the virus to their babies, according to Baby Center. Infection in the first trimester rarely causes a condition called congenital varicella syndrome, or CVS, which is characterized by birth defects. It can also cause miscarriage. Exposure and infection close to the time of delivery puts the baby at risk of developing newborn chickenpox, which can be severe or even life-threatening.
The Incubation Period for Chicken Pox Is Up to 3 Weeks
Most people develop chickenpox between 2 and 3 weeks after exposure. You are contagious for a day or two before the pox develop, and will continue to be contagious until all of the blisters are scabbed over.
Chicken Pox Usually Gives Lifelong Immunity
Most people who get chickenpox will not get chickenpox again. A few people will not receive lifelong immunity, and they may develop the disease at a later time.
The Chickenpox Virus Is Responsible for Shingles
The varicella virus never goes away completely. Rather, it lies dormant in your body and can cause shingles many years later. Shingles is a painful rash that usually affects only one side of the body.
A Chickenpox Vaccine Is Available
The varicella vaccine, is available to prevent chickenpox. The CDC recommends that anyone who has never had chicken pox receive two doses of the vaccine. Your child's doctor can give her the first dose any time after one year of age, and most children have their second dose between the ages of 4 and 6. Older children and adults can receive the vaccine at any age. In some cases, the vaccine can cause a mild case of chickenpox.
Chickenpox and Aspirin Do Not Mix
If your child has chickenpox, do not give him any medication containing aspirin. This can cause Reye's Syndrome, a disease that affects the liver and brain, which can be fatal.
Antiviral Medications Can Treat Chickenpox
If you are at risk for complications from chickenpox, doctors can treat your chickenpox with antiviral medications. Usually this includes adults and immunocompromised children.