Chickenpox, also known as Varicella, is a highly contagious viral infection caused by the Varicella-Zoster virus (VZV). It is mostly seen in children but can also affect adults who have not previously had the disease or been vaccinated against it. The disease typically presents with a characteristic white-yellowish rash of itchy, serum-filled blisters that can spread across the entire body. While chickenpox is generally a mild illness, it can sometimes lead to more serious complications, particularly in immunocompromised individuals or adults.

Chickenpox is primarily spread through direct contact with the discharge secreted from erupted blisters or respiratory secretions from infected individuals. The virus can also be transmitted through contact with objects contaminated with the virus, such as toys, clothing, doorknobs etc. Symptoms of chickenpox typically begin 10-21 days after exposure to the virus and can include fever, headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite, in addition to rash(es).

Complications of chickenpox can include bacterial infections of the skin or lungs, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), pneumonia, or even death in extraordinary cases. Hence it is essential to take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of chickenpox, particularly to vulnerable populations.

One of the most effective means to prevent chickenpox is through vaccination. The Varicella vaccine, which was first licensed in the United States in 1995, is a safe and resourceful way of protecting against the virus. The vaccine is recommended for infants ranging from twelve to fifteen months, with a second dose recommended between four and six years of age. Adults who have not previously been vaccinated or had chickenpox should also receive the vaccine.

The Varicella vaccine is made from a weakened, diluted form of the virus, which stimulates the body’s immune system to produce antibodies to offset VZV antigens. This allows the body to recognise and fight the virus if it is encountered in the future, preventing or lessening the severity of the illness.

In addition to protecting against chickenpox, the varicella vaccine has also been shown to reduce the incidence of shingles, a painful and debilitating condition caused by the reactivation of the VZV virus later in life. This is because the vaccine boosts the immune system’s memory of the virus, which helps to prevent reactivation in oncoming years.

While some individuals may experience mild side effects from the varicella vaccine, such as soreness or redness at the injection site, these are generally mild and temporary. Serious adverse occurrences from the vaccine are extremely rare.

In a nutshell, chickenpox is a common and highly contagious viral illness that can lead to serious complications in certain populations. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the disease and reduce its spread. The Varicella vaccine is safe and highly effective and is recommended for all children and adults who have not previously been vaccinated or had the disease. By taking these steps to protect against chickenpox, we can help to ensure the health and well-being of ourselves and our communities.

Article Credits
Dr. Anoop Lal, Medical Director, CareMithra
Rohan Panicker, Creative Writer, CareMithra