Chicken pox is caused by the Varicella zoster virus. This is an acutely contagious virus with an incubation period of 14-17 days.
Infectious period (when virus may be passed)
- 1-5 days prior to inital rash appearance
- When an indidual comes in contact with fluid from pustules on the skin of an infected individual
- The fluid is highly contagious, but once the lesion crusts over, it is not considered contagious
- When an individual comes in contact with shingles skin rash of an infected individual
Varicella zoster virus transmission:
- direct contact with an infected individual, contaminated bodily fluids, linens or infected surfaces
- indirect transmission through airborne saliva droplets of a cough or sneeze.
- One lesion goes through this complete cycle in about seven days
- New lesions crop up every day for several days
- It may be a week before new lesions stop appearing and existing lesions crust over.
Virus reactivation (shingles)
- occurs when the individual’s immune system is compromised by additional infections, chemical agents or stresses such as infection with human immunodeficiency virus or chemotherapy treatments.
Damage to fetus in utero if mother contracts Varicella zoster virus:
- Varicella infection in pregnant women can lead to viral transmission via the placenta
- Infection of the fetus during the first 28 weeks of gestation can lead to fetal varicella syndrome
Treatment and Comfort measures:
- application of calamine lotion
- zinc oxide to protect against secondary skin infection
- bathing in oatmeal has also been found to relieve itchiness
- The Varicella zostervirus vaccine was first developed by Michiaki Takahashi in 1974
- Protection from Varicella zoster is not lifelong and further vaccination is necessary five years after the initial immunization.
- Disseminated varicella, chickenpox that spreads to organs in the body, is extremely serious and is a major problem for patients with compromised immune systems. An immune system may become compromised as a result of diseases such as AIDS, inherited conditions, or certain drugs. For example, disseminated varicella occurs in up to 35% of children with chickenpox who are taking cancer chemotherapy. In such cases, mortality rates are between 7 – 30%.
Reye Syndrome. Reye syndrome, a disorder that causes sudden and dangerous liver and brain damage, is a complication of chickenpox and other viruses in children who take aspirin. The disease can lead to coma and is life threatening. Symptoms include rash, vomiting, and confusion beginning about a week after the onset of the disease. Because of the strong warnings against children taking aspirin, this condition is, fortunately, nearly nonexistent.
Problems in blood clotting and inflammation of the nerves in the hands and feet. Inflammation can also occur in other areas of the body, such as the heart, testicles, liver, joints, or kidney. Children should never be given aspirin when they have a viral infection.
Canadian Paediatric Society. Chickenpox. 2009. Retrived April 6, 2009 from http://www.cps.ca/caringforkids/immunization/ChickenpoxFacts.htm.
Dirckx, John H. 1997. Stedman’s concise medical dictionary for the health professions. 3rd ed. Baltimore, USA.
University of Maryland Medical Center. 2009. Chicken pox and Shingles. Retrived April 6, 2009 from http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/how_serious_chickenpox_shingles_000082_4.htm