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Chicken Pox

By: Ronaldo V. Mendoza, MD, MBA – Medical Director

Varicella or Chicken Pox is a highly contagious disease primarily caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the varicella rash as a rash appearing first on the stomach, back and face that can spread over the entire body causing between 250 and 500 itchy blisters. It is a serious disease that can cause complications for immune compromised individuals or those with weak immune system. We are exposed to the Varicella virus every day and it is important to get a varicella vaccine.

The classic symptom that may appear at the onset includes fever, body weakness, anorexia or loss of appetite and headache. It is followed by the appearance of an itchy rash with fluid filled blisters which eventually turns to scabs. These may appear first in the face and spreads out in a cephalo-caudal manner to the chest / body and other areas including the buccal mucosa and genital areas.

Being a viral infection, uncomplicated chicken pox is self-limiting and usually resolves after a few days. The CDC has warned potential serious complications for high risk individuals most especially those with weakened immune system because of illness or medications. People with HIV/AIDS or cancer, those who have had transplants, and people on chemotherapy, immunosuppressive medications, or long-term use of steroids are high risks in developing serious complications and should attended by competent medical professionals.

Serious complications from chickenpox include bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children, pneumonia, infection or inflammation of the brain, bleeding problems, septicemia or blood stream infection and dehydration. Patients who develop complications may need hospital care to closely monitor and treat the illness.

The CDC has stated that a person with chickenpox can spread the disease from 1 to 2 days before they get the rash until all their chickenpox blisters have formed scabs (usually 5-7 days). It takes about 2 weeks (from 10 to 21 days) after exposure to a person with chickenpox or shingles for someone to develop chickenpox. If a person vaccinated for chickenpox gets the disease, they can still spread it to others. Getting chickenpox once provides immunity for life although in rare cases, few people develop chickenpox more than once.

Treatment is individualized and will depend of the existence of any co-morbid illnesses. It is best to consult a health professional if signs and symptoms of chicken pox are present.


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