What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a very common illness which usually affects young children. Chickenpox is generally easy to diagnose since it causes small red spots to develop all over the body. Most children will develop chickenpox and the illness is much less common in adults, because most have immunity as a result of developing chickenpox during childhood. Chickenpox is mainly common in the period between March and May and, as it is highly contagious, it is important to keep infected children away from others while they are catching (until the spots have hardened and crusted). It is feasible to develop chickenpox more than once, but the majority of people only experience one episode.

What causes chickenpox?

The condition of chickenpox results from the varicella-zoster virus, which is highly contagious and around 90% of persons who haven’t been exposed to the infection before will develop chickenpox if they make contact with someone with the illness. Chickenpox multiplies in the same way as the common cold. You may develop chickenpox when you make contact with or inhale droplets that have been released by an infected person when they sneeze, cough or touch objects or surfaces.

Symptoms of chickenpox

It can take a while for signs of chickenpox to develop after being in contact with the virus, which is known as the incubation period and can last up to 3 weeks.

The most common symptom of chickenpox is the development of small red spots, but you may experience other symptoms before the spots appear. These include:

  • Fever.
  • Headaches.
  • Generally feeling unwell.
  • Sore throat.
  • Back pain.

Chickenpox spots are typically small, red and itchy. They can be found all over the body but are most commonly found on the face, chest, back, arms and legs. Some people only develop a few spots, while others will have many.

How is chickenpox diagnosed?

You will not usually have to see a doctor to diagnose chickenpox, as the illness is usually very easy to identify. You should contact your GP if you are not sure whether your child has chickenpox or not, you have a young baby with chickenpox, you suffer from a condition that makes your immune system weaker or you are pregnant. It is important to avoid people with chickenpox if you are pregnant, as the illness can affect the baby.

Treatment for chickenpox

In most cases, no treatment is required for chickenpox, as the virus typically clears up of its own accord and the spots should disappear once they have crusted over. In some cases, medication may help to ease symptoms; for example, painkillers can be prescribed to soothe aches and pains and bring the body temperature down.

Chickenpox spots are notoriously itchy and it can be almost impossible to resist the urge to scratch, but try as hard as you can because scratching can cause scarring. Try rubbing calamine lotion into the skin to ease itchiness, which you can buy from most pharmacies.

Treatment may be required for pregnant women, people with weak immune systems, newborn babies and adult patients. The most common treatment is a type of antiviral mediation known as acyclovir.

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