Parents all over the world fear the dreaded word – chickenpox. An infectious disease, chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and it causes a very itchy rash that is often accompanied by fluid-filled blisters. It typically affects school-going children and is a highly contagious disease, is often a troublesome disease for parents to manage. But is it possible to prevent this highly contagious disease? Can chickenpox really be prevented? Let’s take a look.
Can You Prevent Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and it is an extremely contagious disease that leads to an itchy rash that is typically accompanied by fluid-filled blisters all over the body, especially on the back and stomach.(1)
It is possible to prevent chickenpox. Vaccination is the only way to prevent chickenpox. Receiving two diseases of the vaccine for chickenpox is known to be almost 95 percent effective at preventing this infection. Everyone from children to adults should get at least two doses of the chickenpox vaccine, especially if they have never got the diseases before or if they have not been vaccinated earlier.(2)
The chickenpox vaccine has been around for many years now and is proven to be safe and effective at preventing chickenpox. Majority of the people who get vaccinated against chickenpox are not going to get chickenpox. If they do get infected again, then also the symptoms are mild and there are few to no blisters. They may only have a couple of red spots and mild to no fever.
Preventing Chickenpox with the Varicella Vaccine
The chickenpox vaccine, known as the varicella vaccine, has been known to prevent nearly all the cases of severe infection and since the vaccination began, there has been a drastic decrease in cases of chickenpox, especially hospitalization and deaths due to chickenpox.
Children should ideally be given this varicella vaccine as part of their usual vaccination schedule and the first dose has to be given between 12 to 15 months of age. The second dose of the chickenpox vaccine should be administered between 4 to 6 years of age.(3)
Adults or adolescents who have not been vaccinated as children should receive the two doses of the vaccine spaced apart by a month.
At the same time, there are certain groups of people who should not receive the chickenpox vaccine. They include:
- A pregnant woman or who think they might be pregnant.
- People who are known to have had a severe allergic reaction to an earlier dose of the chickenpox vaccine or one of the components of the vaccine.
- People who have a weakened immune system due to ongoing medical treatment or some disease.
- People who have untreated and active tuberculosis.
- People who have recently received plasma or blood transfusion.
- People who are currently unwell with something that is more severe than a cold or cough.
After vaccination, it is important that both children and adults avoid taking aspirin or any other medications that contain salicylates for at least six weeks.(4) This is due to the fact that there is a risk of Reye’s syndrome, which is a rare but possibly fatal illness. If, however, you are already taking aspirin or some other medication that contains salicylates, then your doctor will continue to monitor you closely.
Apart from vaccination, you can also help prevent the spread of the chickenpox virus by practicing good and healthy practices such as washing your hands frequently and other good hygiene tips. If you know someone who is having chickenpox, then you should reduce your exposure to them and take care to follow all practices to not catch the virus.
If you already have chickenpox, then you should remain at home until all the blisters become dried and have crusted over.
What Can Help Relieve the Symptoms of Chickenpox?
If prevention does not work and you catch chickenpox, then there are several things you can do at home itself that will help relieve some of the symptoms of chickenpox and also prevent skin infections.
Using a calamine lotion and taking a cool bath with baking soda added, or adding uncooked oatmeal, will help you get relief from the itching. You should also try to control the itching and scratching because scratching helps the virus spread to others and there is also a high chance of a potential bacterial infection occurring.
If you have chickenpox, you should also take care to keep your fingernails trimmed short to prevent any skin infections caused by scratching the blisters.
If you have a fever, keep in mind that you should not use aspirin or any other aspirin-containing medications to get relief from fever from chickenpox.
When to Consult a Doctor?
For most people who have already had chickenpox or have gotten vaccinated for the disease, it is unlikely that they will contract the disease even if they are exposed to the chickenpox virus.
If a child who does not have any other underlying medical condition develops chickenpox, they will only experience a mild illness that typically does not require any treatment from a doctor. However, if you notice any of the following signs and symptoms, then you should always call a doctor:
- Issues walking
- Fever that lasts longer than four days
- Fever that is higher than 38.9oC or 102oF
- Rash that becomes warm and tender to the touch or starts to leak pus
- Frequent vomiting
- Severe cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe abdominal pain
- Stiff neck
- You are pregnant and have not been vaccinated or have not had chickenpox earlier.
- Your child is still too young to get vaccinated (younger than 12 months and is having chickenpox).
- If you are above 12 years of age and have not been vaccinated or never had chickenpox before.
- You have a weakened immune system from a medical treatment or a medical condition.
An injection of varicella-zoster immune globulin or antiviral medication is generally given to people who are deemed to be at risk of developing severe disease from chickenpox.
It is possible to prevent the contagious disease of chickenpox. A viral disease that causes rashes to appear on your skin as well as blisters, chickenpox is usually a mild disease in healthy children, but can easily become a serious condition or cause complications in people who are at high risk. These include babies, pregnant women, and unvaccinated adults and adolescents.
All children, adults, and adolescents who are not immune to chickenpox and are unvaccinated, should be vaccinated in order to prevent getting chickenpox. You can also help prevent the spread of this infectious disease by practicing good hygiene and reducing your exposure to people who already have chickenpox.
- PubMed Central (PMC). (2019). Facts about chickenpox. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722564/ [Accessed 26 Apr. 2019].
chickenpox?, H. (2019). How can you avoid getting chickenpox?. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279622/ [Accessed 26 Apr. 2019].
- Lopez, A.S., Guris, D., Zimmerman, L., Gladden, L., Moore, T., Haselow, D.T., Loparev, V.N., Schmid, D.S., Jumaan, A.O. and Snow, S.L., 2006. One dose of varicella vaccine does not prevent school outbreaks: is it time for a second dose?. Pediatrics, 117(6), pp.e1070-e1077.
- Cdc.gov. (2019). Routine Varicella Vaccination | For Providers | CDC. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/varicella/hcp/recommendations.html [Accessed 26 Apr. 2019].