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April 15, 2014

Chickenpox: It's catching!

There’s nothing fun about having chickenpox, even if it is usually considered harmless. But did you know that it can be dangerous if contracted in adulthood?

What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox – also known as varicella – is a common, highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It spreads through direct contact with the blisters of an infected person or through airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing. Chickenpox is often associated with childhood, and with good reason: 90 percent of those who get it are under the age of 12.

Good to know!
Variola, which most of us know as smallpox, is a very serious infectious and contagious disease. Fortunately, it was completely eradicated in the 1970s with massive vaccination campaigns. Today only a few samples of the virus still exist. They are kept by the World Health Organization (WHO) for research purposes.

Differences between chickenpox and measles

Although chickenpox and measles may seem similar, they are actually two distinct diseases. Their incubation period, infectious period, warning signs and symptoms all differ. The following table gives an overview of these differences.





·         Fatigue

·         Mild headaches

·         Fever

·         Chills

·         Muscle or joint pain

·         Itchiness

·         Red spots that turn into blisters

·         Coughing

·         Fever

·         Runny nose

·         Puffy eyes

·         Conjunctivitis

·         Köplik’s spots (small white spots at the centre of a red lesions inside the cheeks)

·         Red or brown rash, with intervals of unaffected skin


From 10 to 21 days after exposure.

About 10 days after exposure.

Infectious period

From 2 days before the appearance of the first symptoms until 7 days after onset.

From 4 days before the appearance of the rash until 5 days after onset.

There are other contagious viral infections with similar symptoms. Always consult a health professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Can there be complications?

While the majority of people who get chickenpox recover completely, some, including newborn babies, adults and people with weakened immune systems, may experience a variety of complications such as:

  • Cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection)
  • Necrotizing fasciitis (more commonly known as the “flesh-eating disease”)
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis

That’s why you should always be careful with chickenpox!

What about pregnant women?

Pregnant women who have not been immunized against chickenpox should avoid contact with those infected. The risk of birth defects and miscarriages increases if a woman develops this disease during pregnancy.

Good to know!
While contracting chickenpox provides lifelong immunity, the virus can still return later in life as shingles.

Can chickenpox be treated?

In most cases, the body combats chickenpox without recourse to any specific medication. But treatments to ease symptoms do exist. Here are a few recommendations.

  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever.
  • Stay in a cool environment and apply cold compresses to affected areas.
  • Bathe every day.
  • Keep nails short.
  • Use over-the-counter products (creams, ointments) to reduce itchiness.
  • Take antihistamines if the itchiness is too uncomfortable (ask a pharmacist to help you choose the best product for you).

Since chickenpox is more severe in adults, an antiviral medicine may sometimes be prescribed to them. If you have questions about this, talk to your pharmacist.

Yes, there is a chickenpox vaccine!


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