Chickenpox is commonly associated with paediatrics and is considered a children’s disease. But in reality, about 5% of adults contract the disease and when they do, it has severe complications. Apart from being told that everyone contracts it at least once in their lifetime, people don’t know much about it like how it spreads and how can it be prevented. Everybody believes chickenpox to be harmless since most people have suffered through it. But the fact of the matter is that severe cases of chickenpox can be life-threatening, especially for people whose immunity is compromised.
But first, let us understand the disease -
Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection. It is generally identified as red blisters all over the body. Children under the age of 10 are most vulnerable to chickenpox, but adults and children above the age of 10 can suffer from it too. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The pox starts with an aggressively itchy skin rash with red blisters which will pop and start to leak after a few days. The last stage is the crusting and scabbing before they finally start to fade away. The whole process normally takes about two weeks.
Chickenpox is transmitted when the virus particles that come from the chickenpox blisters are inhaled or accidentally touched by another person. It can also spread through the inhalation of tiny droplets of mucus that escape into the air when a person with chickenpox talks or breathes. It is always advisable to keep the infected person in isolation till the blisters have dried up.
Symptoms generally appear within 10 to 21 days after coming in contact with the virus. Although the symptoms are generally mild, advanced cases report blisters to have spread to nose, mouth, eyes, and even genitals which can be dangerous. Before the rashes begin to surface, a general feeling of being unwell sets in. Most common symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Headache and body ache
- Feeling irritable
- Loss of appetite
Making a case for vaccination:
Vaccination provides two main advantages, it prevents chickenpox occurring during crucial times like an examination or while traveling and it prevents serious complications in adults even if they contract the disease. For children who’ve never had chickenpox, two doses of the vaccine – the first at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second at 4 to 6 years are advised. People over age 13 should get two doses of the vaccine at least 28 days apart.
Chickenpox is a disease that usually starts spreading around examination time, many times students lose crucial time for studying or sometimes sit out of exams due to it. At this point, it is better to get vaccinated for chickenpox if the disease has become an epidemic especially for children sitting for their 10th and 12th examination.
It is always good for adults to get vaccinated against chickenpox because unlike in children, adults who have chickenpox tend to have more severe symptoms and it is harder for them to heal from it. Also, adults are more likely to die from chickenpox when compared to children and therefore, it would be a good decision to get vaccinated for chickenpox, especially if someone is over the age of 60. People who have a compromised immunity like people suffering from AIDS are especially known to have an extremely severe case of chickenpox. People who fall within this group should also be vaccinated.
Women who are thinking of getting pregnant and have never contracted chickenpox are also good candidates for vaccination. If a pregnant woman gets varicella during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, her baby has a 1 in a 100 risk of having serious birth defects such as shortening and scarring of limbs, cataracts, small head size, abnormal development of the brain and mental retardation. Though the chances of such an event happening are very less, with pregnancy it is always better to not take chances. Always consult your gynaecologists before taking vaccinations of any kind during your pregnancy.
In conclusion, if there is a chickenpox outbreak in your neighbourhood, it is not essential to keep your child indoors so that he/she does not develop the disease. If a child develops chickenpox, you need to ensure proper treatment, the right diet and a whole lot of care. It will lead to a quick recovery. But if you are an adult, it is always better to get vaccinated against chickenpox so that even if you do contract the diseases, it would cause only mild symptoms. As always, the most important thing is that you discuss with your doctor on what would be the best course of action for you in terms of being vaccinated for chickenpox.