Gregory Penny, M.D.
Varicella, or chickenpox, is a virus that is known for its telltale rash. The rash causes itchy, red blisters to emerge all over the body. Chickenpox is highly contagious. It's important to know the signs of infection and how to prevent the disease from spreading.
How Chickenpox Spreads
Chickenpox is contagious approximately two days before the rash appears until the blisters have crusted over. This is usually 5-7 days.
The virus is spread from person to person in two ways:
A person who has a secondary varicella infection, also known as shingles, can spread the virus to a person who has not had the chickenpox before. The newly infected individual will have the symptoms of chickenpox – not shingles.
The most recognizable symptom of chickenpox is the rash that covers the body in itchy, red bumps. It first appears on the face and back or abdomen, and then it spreads to all areas of the body. The rash typically goes through three stages.
Other symptoms of chickenpox include:
Because chickenpox is a virus, no antibiotic can be prescribed to heal it. For most children, the best way to approach treatment is to manage discomfort to avoid itching, which can lead to infection.
The following tactics may help relieve itchiness caused by the chickenpox rash.
If the rash spreads to areas such as the mouth or genitals, your child may benefit from additional steps to manage the discomfort. Consult with your physician.
Prevent Chickenpox Blisters from Becoming Infected
If your child is at risk for complications, your physician may prescribe an antiviral medication. Even if an antiviral is prescribed, this medication will not eliminate the virus completely. After a child has contracted chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in the nervous system.
The dormant virus will provide protection from chickenpox for the rest of your child's life. However, there are cases where the virus resurfaces for a second round of chickenpox or as a shingles infection.
How to Prevent Chickenpox
The number of chickenpox infections has significantly decreased thanks to the effective varicella vaccination. Children, adolescents and adults who have not had the disease can receive two doses of the vaccination. Children typically receive the vaccination between 12 and 15 months and then again between ages 4 and 6.