Varicella is a very contagious disease caused by varicella-zoster virus, a DNA virus of the herpes virus family1,2. Following the initial episode of varicella illness, the virus establishes latency in the body’s nerve system, and can be reactivated later in life as herpes zoster which is known as shingles1.
Varicella is very common worldwide and in densely populated metropolitan communities1. Chickenpox has caused and still causes multiple hospitalizations each year. With the introduction of the routine vaccine in 2007, there was a decline in morbidity and hospitalization4.
Symptoms may take 10 to 21 days to appear post infection1. Individuals are most contagious from 1 to 2 days before to shortly after the onset of rash1. The duration of illness is approximately 5 to 7 days and persists until the skin lesions crust over2. Initial symptoms include a slight fever, mild headache, runny nose and general malaise1.
Defining symptoms of varicella1:
Varicella is solely a human disease; the virus can be spread by direct contact with fluid in the lesions or through airborne spread from the respiratory tract1.
Varicella can be prevented through vaccination1,4,5. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox2. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild with fewer red spots2. The vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe disease. The vaccine is given in 2 doses: the first dose will be given to the baby at the age of 12 month and the second dose will be given in the first grade of school4.
In addition, isolation can mitigate the spread of illness1:
Symptoms of varicella can be alleviated with the following5:
Keeping fingernails trimmed short may help prevent skin infections caused by scratching blisters.
Antiviral medications may be prescribed by the healthcare provider for people with varicella who are more likely to develop serious disease including:
Medical advice is recommended for the onset of chicken pox-like symptoms. For further information regarding chicken pox and immunization, please speak with your healthcare provider or visit a travel health clinic.