Chickenpox is caused by the virus varicella zoster. It is a highly contagious disease and the infection is airborne. You can be infected a few days before the rash arrives. The first symptoms of the disease can be fever and pain in the body. After this follows the rash that often begins on the upper body. In the beginning, the rashes are red and raised, eventually a blister (a so-called cup) is added. Other symptoms include cough, abdominal pain and pain when urinating caused by blisters on the body’s mucous membranes. You can also get blisters in your mouth, which can make children hurt when they eat. The rash can cause awkward itching and small children often tear the blisters, which means that there is a risk of bacteria infecting the smallpox in a secondary infection. The incubation period, the time from infection to disease symptoms, varies between 10 to 26 days.
Complications of chickenpox
Some suffer from complications associated with their chickenpox infection. One child out of 2000 gets an inflammation of the cerebellum with an effect on balance and gait. This usually heals within a few weeks. Encephalitis is a less common but serious complication. Adults may experience inflammatory changes in vessels in the central nervous system with a risk of stroke. People with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for complications.
Many have had chickenpox as children. The virus then lies dormant in the nerve roots for life and can flare up as a shingles infection as you get older and the immune system weakens. You cannot get shingles from someone else who has chickenpox, but a person with shingles can infect someone who has not had chickenpox before. Shingles, however, is not as contagious as chickenpox. Children who have had chickenpox during the first year of life can sometimes get a shingles infection as a child.
This is how the chickenpox vaccine works
Chickenpox vaccine can be given from 9 months of age. It is a live attenuated vaccine that should not be given to immunocompromised or pregnant women. The vaccine is given in two doses, either in the muscle of the upper arm (or thigh of young children) or in the subcutaneous fat, depending on the manufacturer of the vaccine. For children, doses are given one year apart, while adults can take the doses at two-month intervals. If you have been exposed to an infection and want to get vaccinated, the vaccine needs to be given as soon as possible and no later than within 72 hours.
Adults over the age of 50 can take a live attenuated shingles vaccine that works as a vaccination against chickenpox for those who have not been exposed to the disease earlier in life.