Chicken pox is a common childhood illness. It is characterized by itchy red spots or blisters all over the body. Chicken pox is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus. It is highly contagious, but most cases are not dangerous.
Chicken pox can be spread from person to person beginning two to three days before the rash appears, and lasting until after the blisters have crusted over. It spreads from exposure to infected people who cough, sneeze, share food or drinks or by touching the blisters themselves. It is often accompanied by a headache, sore throat and possibly a fever. The incubation period (from exposure to the virus until the first appearance of symptoms) is 14 to 16 days. When the blisters crust over, they are no longer contagious and the person can return to normal activity. This normally takes about 10 days after the initial appearance of symptoms.
It is important not to scratch the blisters as it can slow down the healing process and result in scarring. Scratching may also lead to a secondary infection of the skin. To help relieve the itching, soak in a cool bath. Patients should get plenty of bed rest and take over-the-counter analgesics to reduce any fever. More serious cases of chickenpox may be seen in people with other chronic health problems, or in adults who develop chickenpox.
Although several million children still get chicken pox each year, it may be almost entirely prevented by getting the chickenpox vaccine. Children should receive two doses of the vaccine — the first between 12 and 15 months and the second between ages four and six. Older children who have not been vaccinated can be effectively treated with two catch-up doses. Adults who have never had the illness should also be vaccinated.