Introduction to Chicken Pox
Chicken pox, also scientifically known as the varicella zoster virus, is a highly contagious disease that largely targets children. However, adults without immunities to the disease can also become infected with the virus. After being infected, the typical individual gains permanent immunities, ensuring that he will not be susceptible to the disease later on in life.
Symptoms of chicken pox appear shortly after you are exposed. Symptoms begin with a vesicular (blistering) rash on the body. Rashes usually start on the chest, back or face, then spread to the rest of the body quite quickly. The rash develops into small, open sores called "pock marks," which cause severe itching.
How Is It Spread?
Chicken pox can be spread both through the air and by direct skin contact. The virus can easily be spread through sneezing and coughing. The virus can exist as airborne respiratory droplets. This means that it can easily survive in the air outside of its host, long enough to be ingested by another nearby host via breathing or swallowing. Chicken pox can also be spread by direct contact. Each pockmark on the skin secretes virus-tainted fluids from its open blisters. Eight to 10 hours after a pockmark has made itself known on the skin, it will break and form an open sore. This is the point at which the disease is most contagious. After the sore has crusted over and is no longer secreting fluids, the mark is considered non-contagious. The chicken-pox virus can also infect a fetus if the mother carrying it becomes infected. If this happens, the varicella virus can cause serious birth defects in the developing fetus.
How Is It Treated?
An episode of chicken pox can last anywhere from 10 to 30 days. For less severe outbreaks, anti-itch lotion and rest are the best treatments. It is imperative to not scratch the pox, as this can both extend the time frame during which the virus is contagious and open the body to other infections. With more serious cases, antiviral medications like aciclovir may be needed. Most cases of chicken pox begin to heal after the 8th or 9th day. However, a host may be contagious for up to 15 to 20 days after initial infection.