What is chicken pox?

Chicken pox is a rare, highly contagious viral infection that causes itchy blisters all over the body. The number of chicken pox cases annually has decreased since the mid-1990s when a vaccine was developed.

If you have the disease, you are contagious as soon as two days before the bumps appear until all the bumps on the body have scabbed over. It may take as long as two to three weeks for all the sores to completely disappear after they have scabbed over.

Causes of chicken pox

The herpes varicella zoster virus causes chicken pox. It can be spread from contact with a person who has chicken pox, a sneeze or cough, or contact with anything an infected person has touched (towels, linens, clothes, etc.).

Risk factors for chicken pox

If you fall into any of the following categories, you have a higher risk of developing chicken pox:

  • Newborns or infants who have not had the vaccine
  • Adults who have not been vaccinated
  • Pregnant women who have not been vaccinated
  • People with compromised immune systems from diseases such as cancer or HIV

Symptoms of chicken pox

Symptoms of chicken pox do not appear until as long as three weeks after infection. 

The most common sign or symptom of chicken pox is itchy, red blisters that pop up all over the body. Over the course of the infection, the red bumps will appear, fill with fluid that leaks and then become crusty, scab over and start healing.

The infection can stay in your body as long as three weeks.

Other chicken pox symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

Diagnosis of chicken pox

A primary care doctor can diagnose chicken pox in a physical exam. The physician can confirm the diagnosis with blood tests or a culture of one of the blisters.

Treatment for chicken pox

Most people with chicken pox do not need medical treatment. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine for itching.

If you or your child are at high risk for complications associated with chicken pox, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to reduce the severity of the condition.

Medications that contain aspirin are contraindicated for anyone with chicken pox.

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