Chickenpox, caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is a highly contagious viral infection predominantly affecting children under 10 in the UK. Following the initial infection, the virus can remain dormant, later reactivating as shingles. It primarily affects children, causing an itchy rash, fever, and flu-like symptoms. The characteristic red spots develop into fluid-filled blisters, which eventually crust over. Although generally a mild illness, complications can arise, particularly in adults and those with weakened immune systems. The infection peaks between March and May. Widespread vaccination efforts have significantly curtailed its impact, emphasizing the pivotal role of immunization in reducing both the prevalence and severity of chickenpox.

Chickenpox presents with a distinctive set of symptoms, typically emerging 10 to 21 days post-exposure. Characterized by a red, itchy rash starting on the face and trunk, it evolves into fluid-filled blisters before scabbing over. Accompanying this are moderate to high fevers, headaches, fatigue, and a general feeling of unwellness. Loss of appetite, sore throat, and malaise are also common. Severity varies, with some individuals experiencing only mild symptoms or being asymptomatic. Complications are more frequent in adults, pregnant women, newborns, and those with weakened immune systems.

Chickenpox spreads primarily through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, as well as through direct contact with the fluid from the characteristic blisters. The virus can also survive on surfaces for a short time, posing a risk if a person touches contaminated objects and then touches their face. Furthermore, airborne particles released when the blisters are scratched contribute to the spread.

Diagnosing chickenpox typically involves a clinical evaluation based on the characteristic symptoms. The hallmark sign is the presence of a red, itchy rash that evolves into fluid-filled blisters before crusting over. This rash, often accompanied by moderate to high fever, headaches, and fatigue, is distinct and aids in diagnosis.

Preventing chickenpox is primarily achieved through vaccination, with the Varicella vaccine proving highly effective in reducing the risk of infection and severity of the disease. Immunization is recommended for children as part of routine childhood vaccinations, typically administered in two doses. Additionally, maintaining good hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing, can help minimize the spread of the virus. Avoiding close contact with infected individuals, especially during the contagious period, is crucial.

The treatment of chickenpox is primarily supportive, focusing on relieving symptoms and preventing complications. Over-the-counter lotions and gels are available to alleviate itching and provide relief to the skin. However, it is important to note that ibuprofen should be avoided for relieving discomfort in individuals with chickenpox, as it has the potential to cause severe illness in such cases. Vaccination remains the most effective strategy for preventing chickenpox and its complications.

  • Pregnant women without prior infection, newborns, and individuals with weakened immune systems face a heightened risk of experiencing more severe illness and complications if they contract chickenpox.

  • If you have not had chickenpox before, you can contract chickenpox from someone with shingles. However, it's important to note that you cannot catch shingles from an individual who has either chickenpox or shingles themselves.

  • Vaccination within 3 days after exposure of the disease may prevent/minimise the infection.


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