What Causes it?
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, a member of the herpesvirus family. The same virus also causes herpes zoster (shingles) in adults.
How Contagious is it?
It can spread easily. You can get it from an infected person who sneezes, coughs, or shares food or drinks. You can also get it if you touch the fluid from a chickenpox blister.
A person who has chickenpox can spread the virus even before he or she has any symptoms. Chickenpox is most easily spread from 2 to 3 days before the rash appears until all the blisters have crusted over.
How Dangerous is it?
Most children with chickenpox completely recover. But, it can be severe for babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.
The first symptoms of chickenpox often are a fever, a headache, and a sore throat. You or your child may feel sick, tired, and not very hungry. The chickenpox rash usually appears about 1 or 2 days after the first symptoms start. Some children get the chickenpox rash without having a fever or other early symptoms.
What Test are Done?
Your health care provider can usually diagnose chickenpox by looking at the rash and asking questions about the person's medical history. Small blisters on the scalp usually confirm the diagnosis.
Laboratory tests can help confirm the diagnosis, if needed.
Treatment for chickenpox (varicella) depends on a person's age, health, and severity of the illness.
- Healthy children with chickenpox may need only home treatment. This includes taking acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) to reduce fever and discomfort. Follow the package instructions carefully. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor?s advice about what amount to give. (Do not give aspirin to people younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome.)
- Over-the counter oral antihistamines may help reduce itching. But check with your child's doctor before giving them to your child. Oatmeal baths and soothing lotions that don't contain antihistamines may also help. Examples of lotions to use include calamine lotion or Aveeno.
- Healthy teens and adults with chickenpox usually have more severe symptoms than children and are at higher risk for complications than children. Still, most need only home treatment. All teens and adults with chickenpox should call the doctor. Some may need hospital care.
- Pregnant women and people with immune system problems are at increased risk for complications. They should call the doctor right away if they suspect they have chickenpox.
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