Chickenpox (or varicella-roster virus) is a viral infection that causes an itchy rash with small, fluid-filled blisters. For those who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease, it is highly contagious. For those who do contract chickenpox, it is a mild illness, but in severe cases, lesions may cover the entire body, as well as the throat, eyes, and internal mucous membranes.
Since the onset of vaccinations, severe outbreaks of chickenpox has been dramatically down. For both children and adults, the risk of catching chickenpox is higher if you haven’t ever had chickenpox, haven’t been vaccinated, work in or attend a school or child care facility, or live with children.
If you do get infected, signs of the disease will show up 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus. A typical case of chickenpox lasts from five days to two weeks. While fever, loss of appetite, headache and fatigue are all indicators of infection, the telltale indicator of chickenpox is the rash, which has three phases:
- Raised reddish pink bumps (papules) which appear over several days;
- Fluid filled blisters (vesicles) that begin to break after about one day of forming; and
- Crusty skin as the vesicles scab over.
Once infected, you can remain contagious until all spots crust over.
Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is a painful rash also caused by the varicella zoster virus. If you’ve had chickenpox in the past, the virus lies dormant in the roots of the nerves and can reactivate years later. Experts aren’t sure why approximately one in three people will see the virus “awaken”, but they do believe weakened immune systems and stress are mitigating factors. Shingles appear most often in people over 60 years of age.
While shingles is less contagious than its childhood counterpart, it can be passed on as chicken-pox to someone who’s never had the disease before. Unlike chickenpox, shingles is not contagious until the skin blisters. A shingles vaccination is recommended for adults 60 and older; it is also approved for anyone over 50. Like the chickenpox vaccination, the preventive injection does not guarantee you will not develop the disease, but it does make the rash less painful and with a shorter duration.
If you think that someone in your family has the chickenpox or shingles, visit one of Urgent Team’s Family of Urgent Care & Walk-in Centers. Our medical professionals can generally diagnose diseases by simply examining the rash. They may also prescribe medications to lessen the severity of the rash and any complications. Be sure to call ahead, as measures should be taken to avoid infecting others who may be waiting.